Scrum Doesn't Automatically Solve Your Diversity Issues

May 2, 2022 by Elroy Jumpertz

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Image credit: Parabol via Unsplash

We all heard a million times that a Scrum team should be self-organizing. We should attract team members that complement our own skills, because no two persons are exactly alike. Successful, productive teams who can make a meaningful impact are ideally composed of "T-shaped" persons, and combine a diverse range of skills and interests.

This is nice in theory. In reality though, you find yourself in a team with a Dutch, an Indian and a Russian, somebody on the autism spectrum, one fresh out of college and another recovering from a burn-out. The idea of a high-performing, self-managing team seems far far away.

If you follow a framework like Scrum, you already have some tools at your disposal for healthy team dynamics. Its focus on transparency, collaboration, ownership, joint decision making and especially events such as the Daily Scrum, the Sprint Planning and the Sprint Retrospective all contribute to the "team spirit" of getting work done.

However, Scrum is a framework for delivering value to a customer in the form of a product. It doesn't tell you how to build a great team. For example, the Scrum Guide explains the importance of the Sprint Retrospective, but it doesn't tell you how a good Retrospective is done (in which individual differences can be discussed openly and respectfully). Neither does it explain how exactly a team should learn from the experience it gained by working together.

A good Scrum Master will have a set of tools that maximizes the efficiency of any Scrum event, including the Retrospective, but there is a fair chance that problems with team dynamics cannot be solved by Scrum or Scrum Masters. This is where we should stop looking at Scrum for answers, because the solution probably lies in understanding your team's diversity.

The truth is that working in a team with wildly different individuals is hard. You might have had some "soft skills" training (presentation skills, negotiation, interviewing, conflict resolution, etc.), but it's likely that the things you learned were fairly biased towards your own culture. And now your carefully phrased (western-style) feedback doesn't land with your Asian colleague, or vice versa.

Day-to-day collaboration with your team members with different cultural backgrounds, and with unique character traits, is a special skill. One which often doesn't get the same attention as other "soft skills" in which your employer is willing to invest.

Don't despair though! There are tools that can help you. Keep on reading to learn more about diversity and how can turn all those pesky human differences into your team's greatest strength!

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Previously: Why Did Isha Leave? - The Importance of Setting Explicit Career Expectations in a Culturally Diverse Team