The term ‘intellectual midwife’ comes from the philosophy of Socrates. He stated that, like his mother, who was a midwife, he only helps the interlocutor to find the truth, just as the midwife assists in the birth of a new life. It is no different in Scrum, especially when the Scrum Master is not a developer and does not actually create an Increment during the Sprint. Does this mean, however, that the work of Scrum Master has no value and is in vain?

Scrum Master value

Joseph Tischner wrote: ‘An educator does not create this truth, just as a midwife does not create a child. He only helps, adding his effort to the efforts of man’. As in the case of the Socratic intellectual midwife, the word ‘help’ is the key here. Supporting the Development Team is inscribed in the role of the Scrum Master. The ‘Scrum Guide’ mentions this: ‘The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules and values’. The value that the Scrum Master brings to the team is primarily by functioning as support. Through his duties, the Scrum Master, just like the intellectual midwife, assists and helps the Scrum Team. By adding his effort (like the tutor that Tischner writes about), he helps the team to achieve the goal of the Sprint, i.e. success.

The role of a coach

In everyday work, the Scrum Master assumes various roles – one of them is the role of a coach for the Development Team. I liked a statement that I once came across, that coaching fills the gap between thinking about action and actually taking action. A coach, like a midwife, does not take the first step. He only shows and convinces someone that the first and second step are possible. An important point, but something which is often forgotten, is that that the intellectual midwife discovers knowledge with their interlocutor. Therefore, knowledge increases in search of truth. Unlike a mentor, the coach is neither in a dominant position, nor imposes appropriate solutions or indicates the path to follow. We can say that the coach is a kind of travel companion who supports, motivates, and helps us to carry luggage – but he does not know if the chosen path is good because it is the first time he has visited that place. This is probably the essence – deciding to work together, even though we do not know where it will lead us.

Coach and Scrum Master

Someone would ask ‘If the educator (as per Tischner) or a coach (like in Scrum) does not know the answer to our questions, do I really need him?’ I don’t know. I know people who, through trial and error, develop and find answers to their questions. I suppose these people have extremely well-developed self-reflection skills. However, not everyone can do it and not everyone has the courage to start the journey on their own in search of their own talents. In the scope of everyday work, I ask colleagues various questions, helping to bring out their subconscious potential. ‘What is your goal, where do you see yourself in the organization?’ or ‘Maybe you would like to share your knowledge and write an article for our expert knowledge base?’. Many people do not think about it every day, they do not look for this ‘truth’. That’s when it is good to have a companion asking the right questions or just shining a flashlight when it gets dark. In a Development Team’s daily work, it will be, for example, a situation when the team is up against a wall, when an insurmountable obstacle appears. The Scrum Master, by asking questions such as: ‘Do we really need to focus on this now?’, ‘Would anyone like to add something?’, ‘Is this task understandable for everyone?’, directs the team to the right path, although he does not give the answer himself. In this way, he motivates the team to continue to look for a solution.

Team support – the challenges for the Scrum Master

The Scrum Master also assumes the role of a mentor during his daily work. It is a challenge here to skillfully find a balance between the roles of a mentor and a coach. When does a team or a team member need a specific answer, and when is there a need for a suitable question to be asked? How to distinguish a skillful search from wandering in the fog? A good Scrum Master knows when to assume one of these roles, which only seem to be mutually exclusive. The ‘Scrum Guide’ mentions acting in different roles depending on the situation. However, only months or years of practice allow the Scrum Master to understand the needs of the team in the context of the current situation.

The Scrum Master as an intellectual midwife

The ‘Scrum Guide’ directly defines the Scrum Master as a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. This often requires changing the work paradigm from egocentric to leading by example, commitment and service. The term ‘servant leadership’ was created in 1970, but it has a long history, and people have intuitively known its definition for a long time.

The intellectual midwife, like a servant-leader, usually diminishes their role. This is probably the most difficult task, since it calls for modesty and self-confidence. It is also the essence of servant leadership, in which cooperation, rather than following one’s own needs and assumptions, comes first. The intellectual midwife takes pleasure in the success of a companion. He can diminish his role, while stressing that he was not the source of knowledge and experience.

Summary

It is worth remembering that the philosophical theories and concepts presented in the article have a long history. The Socratic intellectual midwife has its origins in ancient times, just like the beginnings of the theory of empiricism on which Scrum is based. It is no different with servant leadership, examples of which can be found in religious texts. It is worth emphasizing the historical and philosophical reference of modern solutions. This makes us aware that today’s work paradigm is not based on a quasi-modern approach, but draws on the wealth of theories that have been analyzed and used successfully for centuries.

Author:
Łukasz Tudzierz

Scrum Master at JCommerce. He believes in empiricism and iteration and teaches Scrum Teams independence and responsibility. Outside of work, he’s a mountaineer and climber, as well as the operator of the Tuudi.net portal.

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