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Modern Court Jesters

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.

The Scrum Master is also much more than a comedian, although the pleasure of working in a sustainable way should not be neglected. The Scrum Guide defines him as a servant leader who helps both the team and the surrounding organization to reflect on and improve processes, working methods and culture. He is less a manager, teacher or guardian of the team than a coach, system thinker and organizational developer.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Aristotle

While the Scrum Master focuses on the effectiveness of his team, he is well aware of the systemic context in which it is embedded. No team is an island and much of a team’s effectiveness depends on its interactions with other teams and the rest of the organization and its culture. The Scrum Master must also be able to hold up the mirror to the organization and the authorities working in it and put his finger in the wound in order to make his team more effective. And he can only do that if he enjoys a bit of this fool’s freedom.

Problems that arise in organisations are almost always the product of interactions of parts, never the action of a single part. Complex problems do not have simple solutions.

Russel Ackoff

This freedom can be promoted in terms of the already mentioned separation of powers by deliberately placing the Scrum Masters outside the rest of the hierarchy. A Scrum Master who has the same boss as his team and this boss is perhaps even the product owner, will find it rather difficult (depending on his personal inclination to insurrection) to hold up the mirror to the organization and its authorities. Therefore it helps to place these modern court jesters like their medieval role models outside the rest of the hierarchy with a direct connection to the “king”.

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.

W. Edwards Deming

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