Impact of privileges on Self Management

Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies.
Scrum Guide, 2020

An autonomous and self-managing team thrives when hierarchies take a backseat, allowing Scrum accountabilities to drive the ways of working. While organizational hierarchies persist, especially during the formation of Scrum Teams, it’s crucial to discuss privileges and their impact on a team’s ability to self-manage.

Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally…
David Gaider

Hierarchical Privilege: This explicit form of privilege arises when a Scrum Team comprises employees with varying levels of seniority. Senior employees wield influence, sometimes making unilateral decisions that affect the entire team. For instance, a line manager, also a developer within the Scrum Team, might cancel a Sprint retrospective without consulting other team members.

Expertise Privilege: Accorded to individuals experienced in the required domain or skillset, this privilege can lead to swift decision-making by senior developers and technical leads, potentially stifling input from less experienced team members. While quick decisions may be necessary in certain situations, it’s crucial to ensure inclusivity.

Cultural Privilege: In geographically distributed Scrum Teams, cultural nuances can create privilege dynamics. Team members from more expressive cultures may unintentionally dominate discussions, leaving others less inclined to confrontations. Recognizing and mitigating this cultural privilege fosters a truly inclusive and collaborative environment.

These privileges often lead to a few team members making decisions for the entire Scrum team, deviating from the essence of self-management.

As the Scrum Master serves the Scrum team, interventions are essential:

  1. Acknowledge Privileges within the Team: Facilitate a conversation to discuss all forms of privileges within the team. Awareness is the first step to making team members conscious of their privileges and their impact on collaboration and self-management.

  2. Discuss Techniques to Navigate Privileges: Help the team explore techniques to deal with privileges. Team members can suggest creating space for others and being more aware of those not in privileged positions. Techniques like Liberating Structure 1-2-4-All provide equal opportunities for every team member to participate.

  3. Hold Each Other Accountable: Establish or update a working agreement that includes techniques to ensure decisions are made with minimal privileges. Define how any team member can intervene if the working agreement is not being followed.

To illustrate the impact of privileges, consider a recent experience. In a Sprint Planning session with limited team members, the Product Owner, due to her senior rank, proposed cancelling the meeting without consulting all team members. Recognizing this privilege, the Scrum Master intervened, prompting a discussion that led to a more inclusive decision-making process.

Addressing privilege dynamics ensures that Scrum Teams embody the principles of autonomy, collaboration, and self-management leading to development of highly effective teams able to deliver value to their stakeholders.

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