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The Art of Facilitating Participatory Decision Making

16 March 2015

The power of Participatory Decision Making

One of the ScrumMaster's primary responsibilities is facilitating Scrum ceremonies. With Agile adoptions, teams are moving away from a command-and-control approach to participatory decision making.

Democratic dictatorship

Often ScrumMasters face challenges while facilitating the ceremonies when the team attempts participatory decision making. With the presence of senior team members and project managers in the disguise of ScrumMasters, the teams tend to get into a shell, undermining the whole purpose of participatory decision making. The team ends up in what I call a "democratic dictatorship." Project managers collect opinions from team members just for the sake of collecting, and then present their views -- suppressing the team's input.

Facilitating participatory decision making

ScrumMasters can use the following techniques to encourage team members to engage in participatory decision making, helping the team take on Agile practices more quickly.

Ground rules

The ScrumMaster can establish a few ground rules to encourage participatory decision making:
  • Opposing viewpoints are allowed to coexist. Team members can present opposing ideas without fear of being criticized.
  • Each team member pays attention to the person presenting his/her idea. Keep distractions, such as mobile phones, office laptops, etc., away during these conversations.
  • Team members should try to speak from multiple viewpoints and ask questions such as, "Is this what you mean?" This will help all team members reach a common understanding.
  • Talking behind others' backs is prohibited. When a person is presenting his or her viewpoint, no sidetracking or whispering to other members is allowed. Any team member who would like to bring up a point can simply raise his or her hand to get the ScrumMaster's attention and get a turn to speak.
  • Focus on generating a list of ideas rather than direct solutions. This encourages team members to open up and present alternatives.

Ask good questions

Asking good questions often encourages team members to open up and participate. A few such questions are:
  • "Can you provide more insight about that?"
  • "Please clarify What do you mean by that."
  • "Can you explain more using an example?"
  • "Why do you think that's working for you?"
  • "What issues does this bring up for you?"
  • "What matters to you about that?"
  • "Tell me more."
  • "How so?"
  • "Who else has an idea about this?"
  • "Does anyone have any questions?"
  • "OK, we've heard several people's viewpoints on this matter. Does anyone else have a different idea?"
  • "Can anyone play devil's advocate for a few minutes?"

Use innovation games

Speedboat Innovation Game

Participatory decision making tends to flourish with innovation games. Recently while coaching an Agile team, when I facilitated the Speedboat innovation game, there were startling inputs from team members, such as, "They were threatened by their manager for nonperformance," "Their manager did not agree to use information radiators publicly and instead forced the team to use Excel worksheets on a shared folder," etc. Hearing these allowed me to better help the team analyze what was going on and truly engage in participatory decision making.

Happy facilitating! Encourage participatory decision making to drive your team toward more collaboration and better results.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (2 ratings)


Manikandan Raman, CSP,CSM, 3/16/2015 3:40:56 AM
Nice Article, My suggestion would be the Scrum Master be a senior developer or Project Manager from a different team so that team members will get engaged in participation and share their ideas without fear and hesitation.

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