When a Scrum Master encounters resistance

Lots of people these days are becoming Scrum Masters. It is after all a good job, well paid, and Scrum is at the vanguard of the growing movement for agile software development. However, it is a challenging role. And one of the main reasons for that is resistance. So this article will explain what sort of resistance a Scrum Master is likely to run into. And how to best deal with that resistance. Let’s get into it!

What kind of resistance does a Scrum Master encounter?

There are two main kinds of resistance that a Scrum Master encounters. One is from within the team, and the other is from within the organization.

Scrum is all about collaboration

Resistance from within a team is about people worrying about their job titles and ways of working. Resistance from within the organization is more about managing the the flow of work.

These are different sources and have different reasons for happening. They also require very different approaches. So I’ll treat them differently.

Why does a Scrum Master encounter resistance?

The reasons depend a lot on where that resistance is coming from. As we saw, resistance can come from people within the Scrum team, or those outside the team. So from elsewhere in the organization. So we will look at the reasons separately.

Why you might find resistance from within the team

This resistance usually occurs in stable teams that have already been there for a while. These people have usually been in that team and that job for a long time, and they aren’t used to changes. They are probably worried that Scrum is going to mean they lose their job, or their job changes a lot. They want things to stay exactly as they are so they can keep working that same job in that same team.

The other possible cause is that it might be someone who has been burned by Scrum before. They might have been involved in a Scrum project that went badly. Or maybe it was bad fake Scrum (like “cargo cult Scrum” or similar). They might be sceptical and worried that the same bad experience will happen again.

Why you might encounter resistance from within the organization

Resistance to Scrum from within the organization is quite a different creature. It is usually comes from a team adjacent to the Scrum team (i.e. an upstream or downstream team), or a middle manager.

Adjacent teams (i.e. a team producing something consumed by the Scrum team, or a team consuming something from the Scrum team) are often worried about Scrum. Mainly because they aren’t doing Scrum, and they are worried that there will be problems. They might be seen as too slow or too difficult to work with. (That could be true!). Or that their ways of working with other teams could change. (This could also be true!).

Middle managers can be a source of resistance to Scrum

Middle managers are often a source of resistance to Scrum. Remember, there are no “manager” roles in Scrum. That doesn’t mean all managers disappear right away or are out of a job! It just means that they don’t fit into the Scrum framework itself. Their position and work exists outside of that framework.

There certainly are roles for managers in an agile world. I talked about that more here. But a lot of them still feel uncertain about this change. Some of them might be product or project managers. And they’re worried they will have less ability to lock in a big scope list up front. (Spoiler alert: they’re right, and that’s a good thing).

Some of them might be uncertain about how line management will work in Scrum. (It doesn’t really change). Or some of them might just be resistant to change in general.

What to do when a Scrum Master encounters resistance

When you encounter resistance, the very first thing you need to do is to understand it. Listen before speaking. Find out if it is coming from within your team, or elsewhere in the organization. And if it is coming from elsewhere, see if it is coming from another team or a middle manager.

How to deal with resistance from within the team

The best way to deal with this resistance is to have a one on one conversation with the person. Don’t gang up on them and force them to justify their resistance to the team or their manager. Listen to their concerns, and be sympathetic to them.

Scrum is different and does involve change. And not everyone is comfortable with that.

Try to emphasise how Scrum empowers people and will let them have more say and make more decisions. Remind them of the Scrum values such as Respect, Openness and Courage. You might need to focus more on some of these values depending on what their concerns are.

If they are resisting due to team changes (e.g. moving from a component team to a cross-functional team), remind them that they can still socialise and collaborate with their old functional team. These usually become “Tribes”, as per the Spotify model.

How to deal with resistance from outside the team

Resistance from outside the team can be harder. You may need to leverage other people or resources in the organization. You might even need help from an agile coach.

Teams interfacing with your teams might need to start working in different ways. If they are slowing your team down, you can make that known (as an impediment) to managers or sponsors. Nobody wants to be shown as being the slowest link in a chain. Or putting a project at risk.

So that one isn’t usually too hard. Change managers can help with those conversations too, since they should be helping with identifying where Scrum is interfacing with others.

Middle managers are probably the harder conversation. The truth is, a lot of them will be changing how they work. And many of them will be giving up power or control that they had before. That is part of what agile is all about!

Make sure to emphasise that they still have a role to play and can still add value. And remind them of the increased transparency that they will get with Scrum. And how that can benefit them.

Remember, always listen first before speaking. And always make the conversation about them, not about you.


In summary, resistance can come from different sources and reasons. And you need to listen and understand those reasons, and tailor your response to resistance, depending on where it’s coming from. And always emphasise the advantages that Scrum can bring to teams and organizations.

Did you find this article helpful? Or have you had different experiences with resistance to Scrum? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear about it!

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