How does a Scrum Master handle underperforming team members?

Handling Underperforming Team Members Like a Pro!

In our journey towards fostering a high-performing team, sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the uneasy task of addressing underperforming team members.

Yes, I must confess, there are moments when I wish resolving this issue was as simple as getting a big stick and wandering outside with them.

But alas, we all know that’s not the way to go! 😌

As Scrum Masters, we often wonder whether it’s our job to arbitrate their performance.

Join me as I delve into this crucial topic and offer some insights into successfully navigating this common challenge in the Agile world. ✨

Navigating the Thin Line of Authority

First off, I want to start with an important question, as Scrum Masters, “Is it our job?

Are we the arbiters of performance?

I must emphasise that straddling between being a leader and a servant to the team is not a comfortable place to be. 🤔

There is an uncanny valley where you might feel like a boss yet without any actual authority.

A tricky position, isn’t it?

It’s a delicate balance that requires us to be conscious not to fall into the realm of performance management, typically a responsibility of line managers.

Step One: Initiate the Conversation

The starting point should be that when we notice someone not meeting their potential, it’s wise always to have a friendly chat.

Sometimes, a casual conversation can uncover underlying issues that might be affecting their performance. It could be a bad week or personal problems that they are grappling with.

Initiate a conversation, as often, they might express something personal affecting their performance. Say something like, “Hi, I’ve just noticed you’ve been off the boil for the last few weeks. Is there anything you want to talk about?” 🗨️

Often, they might share personal troubles affecting their performance, which opens up an avenue for team support.

Remember, it’s all about fostering a supportive environment where team members can lean on each other during rough patches.

It’s about opening channels for communication and offering a helping hand.

Retrospectives and Support

Sometimes, the issue might be beyond a personal chat, and a one-on-one conversation might not suffice. It might require a collective approach to find the way forward.

Here, the team can play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing the concern during retrospectives. 🤝

“How do we as a team move forward and support each other in this process?”_

It’s about nurturing relationships within the team and finding ways to enhance collaboration and support during these times. A retrospective meeting can be the right place to brainstorm how to move forward more effectively as a team.

When It’s Time to Seek External Help

Sometimes, it’s necessary just to have a frank conversation. If the individual is unwilling to work on the issue or the team cannot find a way to help, it’s time to involve external assistance.

It is essential to have an open and honest conversation with the individual concerned, followed by a discussion with their line manager if necessary.

Sometimes, it’s not about reprimanding but finding the right kind of support, whether training, mentoring, or even considering if the role aligns with the person’s skills and interests.

Remember, our role is not to manage performance but to work with the team and help them improve.

Ready to Embark on Your Agile Journey? 🚀

Are you intrigued to learn more about mastering the role of a Scrum Master?

I invite you to explore my Agile and Scrum courses, where you will gain in-depth insights and tools to navigate such complex situations effectively.

Together, we can forge a path to success, fostering teams that are not just efficient but also happy and cohesive.

Let’s foster environments where everyone can attain their potential!

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Agile Coaches page.

If you are inspired by the idea of an online apprenticeship for a scrum master, visit

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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