Servant Leader Responsibilities: Supporting the Team


In the fourth chapter of the Agile Practice Guide, the Agile Alliance discusses the role of the “servant leader” (such as scrum master) and contrasts it with the role of project manager found in traditional project management.

In the last post, based on the material on the top of p. 35, I reviewed what the Guide says about the role of facilitation, which faces inwards towards the project team, helping them create acceptable solutions.

The other part of servant leadership faces outwards from the team to the organization at large, and this is where the support role becomes crucial.   The visual image I get of this is of the sport famous in Canada called “curling.”  It is a a sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area which is segmented into four concentric circles.   Once projected by the thrower, the path of the stone may be influenced by sweeper with a broom who accompanies it as it slides down the sheet of ice, using the brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone.   In the analogy with an agile project team, the team members are the ones who throw the stone across the ice, but it is the servant leader who like the sweeper accompanies the stone on its flight, and tries to sweep impediments out of the way so that the stone can make it to the target.

Here are some of the specific actions a servant leader can take within the organization to smooth the project towards its goal:

  • Streamline documentation processes–identifying “bottleneck” processes involving documentation, and then working with a department to evaluate the amount of documentation required so teams can spend more time delivering a valuable project instead of producing exhaustive documentation.
  • Educating stakeholders–explain how prioritization of work, greater accountability and productivity of empowered teams, and improved quality from more frequent reviews are connected to benefits of business value and therefore of a better “bottom line” for the organization.
  • Advocate for training and career development–consult with human resource development to encourage team members to grow beyond their current roles, benefiting both the team members and the organization as a whole.
  • Support bridge-building activities with groups external to the project, creating positive feedback loops of appreciation and good will based on increased collaboration.

This post and the last one outline the roles of the servant leader.   How does the role of project manager differ from that of a servant leader?   It is important to be aware of this so that project managers can transition to taking on the role of a servant leader in an agile framework.   That will be the subject of the next post.

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