Originally, court jesters were not entertainers or jokers, but serious characters. They had an important task and were an integral part of the court. Their foolishness, however, relieved them of the social norms and allowed them to express grievances and (religious) misconduct in a more or less subtle and humorous way, thus inspiring the authorities to reflect and rethink. Because of this “fool’s freedom” they were a social institution of permissible criticism. The separation of powers in agile organizations means in the last consequence also a renaissance of this venerable social institution of the court jester in person of the Scrum Master.
In most hierarchical organizations the spirit of absolutism still prevails. All power is with the boss. He or she manages and controls, imposes rules, monitors their compliance and punishes misconduct. Even today there are still enough small and big Sun Kings: L’état c’est moi! This is because people are still susceptible to excessive power on the one hand and on the other because the Enlightenment apparently had little influence on the design of modern organizations. The advance of knowledge work and the increasing striving for agility also lead to a new Enlightenment with a more pronounced separation of powers.
In 2008, a team at Google launched Project Oxygen. The aim of the project was to find out what defines good leadership and what behaviors characterize a good manager at Google. Being a data-driven company the team approached this question on the basis of data from employee surveys and the managers’ annual performance reviews. The original eight behaviors have recently been reworked and two new behaviors have been added. At first glance, they still seem quite trivial or, as the New York Times noted in its 2011 article, almost like a gag on the whiteboard in the television series “The Office”. But one must not be deceived by this simplicity. Google has seen positive effects in recent years in terms of employee satisfaction, turnover and performance through incorporating these finding into trainings and through the intense focus on leadership that accompanies the publication. This is reason enough for a second look.
Scrum is a deceptively simple framework for agile product development. Besides the development team there are only the roles Product Owner and Scrum Master. The process is lean and requires only a few artifacts and events (as the meetings in Scrum are called). This simplicity leads in practice to all kinds of fake agile and cargo cult – lovely but rather ineffective drama. To prevent this from happening, there is the Scrum Master. Unfortunately, this important role suffers from many misinterpretations, as the following three anti-patterns illustrate.