Enterprise Agile Coach, Business Agility Leader & US Navy Veteran

I detangle chaotic delivery cycles and accelerate the development of agile based capabilities

How to stay motivated as a scrum master in a low agile culture environment

Illustration of a scrum master with lots of anxiety due to all the impediments written on red sticky notes that surround their head
When you're working in an organization that has low agile culture it's often tough to maintain a high level of energy and sprit. These situations can be a real struggle, but they also present a scrum master with a tremendous opportunity of learning.

I’ve been an agilist for a little over ten years now. It’s been a roller coaster ride of good and bad, but I can say that this job has taught me many things about myself and the world around me. One thing is clear: The most important thing to know is how to stay motivated in your role as a scrum master when you’re surrounded by people who are not quite on board with agile transformation as a whole.

How do you do this? Well, that’s what we’re going to cover in today’s blog post!

When an organization is still in the early phases of agile maturity it’s sometimes difficult to remain positive

As a scrum master, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize. It can be hard to maintain a positive attitude when you’re not seeing results. You may be frustrated with the slow pace of progress, or concerned that other people are not supportive of your . But if you want to be an effective leader, your job is to lead by example—and that means staying positive!

It’s easy for us as humans to get caught up in our daily struggles and forget why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place; but success comes with perseverance—not just following orders and doing what others tell us how they want it done. As a leader working with people who don’t always share your vision (and aren’t always willing or able), will often cause you to want to tear your hair out and flip a table. There will be times where you can see the solution with great ease, yet when presented with a solution, it will feel like your company is their own worst enemy.

In these instances, take a moment to regain your center, and remember that your role is a coach.  Acceptance must prevail.

Set realistic goals and expectations for incremental agile change

It’s rare for a scrum master to see a transformation from start to finish. By definition, the scrum master is responsible for helping teams become more agile, so they can deliver value faster than before. This can take months or years depending on how long your team has been in existence.

So here are two things you should know:

  • Your goal should be to define short incremental realistic wins to develop agile capabilities over time. While parts of the system may be able to be improved quickly, other parts will still feel broken and this may cause you to feel like the water is flowing into the boat faster than you’re able to bail it out (just go ahead and read that again).
  • Organizational change takes a long time, and a lot of patience. It’s important to learn how not only to accept this reality, but also embrace this complexity as part of your job so that you can focus on what is truly under your control – namely increasing awareness about agile principles within your organization’s culture at large

Believing in your value and strengths as agilist and scrum master is a great place to start

In order to stay motivated, you must first believe in your value and strengths as a highly knowledgable scrum master. Be confident in your abilities and skills, but also be aware of the areas where you can improve. By knowing what you can realistically offer to the organization and what skills will help them succeed most, you’ll be able to better understand how to work with them from this point forward.

This isn’t just about knowing how much time it takes for an average person on your team to do their job—it’s also about understanding what kind of organization they work for (e.g., whether or not they have a dedicated test team), how heavily regulated their industry is (e.g., are there compliance requirements for testing?), etc… In these cases, it would make sense for an organization to embrace the idea of improving their CI/CD pipeline by deploying automated testing support but allocating time to enablers, and non-value driven features can be a tough battle to will. In these instances it’s best to accept that your role is that of an advisor who is only able to create awareness of the need to resolve impediments, and create space for improvement. As a scrum master you have to accept that you horizon of authority does not extend to deciding on which improvement items to tackle and when. That’s decision will remain the authority of your team and organizational leadership.

Create an internal agile community of practice as a source of strength

An agile community of practice is an informal group of people who have a shared common interest in agile methods and ways of working. Establishing an internal community of practice can help you create a common definition for agility within your organization, and also provide you with a rock to lean on when challenges are running high.

This is especially true if the organization as a whole has not yet fully matured it’s agile product development practices. In this case, creating an internal community of agilists will add strength to your organizations agile transformation efforts because it will allow everyone in the company to openly discuss their experiences with the adoption process—and get feedback from like-minded peers who are going through similar struggles.

The best part about creating your own internal community of like minded agilists is that you’ll no longer feel alone in your journey.  You’ll always have your core group of agilist to help champion you when your spirits get low.

Search for the silver lining to help you reframe negative self perception

As a scrum master, you know the job can be very rewarding—but it can also be very frustrating when change doesn’t happen as fast as you’d like it to happen. The great thing about being a scrum master is that there is always some way to reframe your negative self-perception.

To every negative aspect there is always a positive one if you look for ways to reframe it. For example, if someone isn’t following the rules of Scrum, instead of seeing them as an adversary or obstacle in your way, try and see them as an opportunity for growth and learning. If someone else sees something in their environment that needs improving and wants your help with changing things around but nothing happens? Instead of getting upset about the situation at hand, try instead to focus on what good could come from it: what does this person stand to learn? how much more effective will they become once they’ve gained experience doing things their own way? Can this particular challenge cause others around him or her think differently about how things should be done?

Keep a well sequenced backlog of improvement items

You can’t hold your team accountable for stuff that doesn’t exist. If you want to see progress, you need a well sequenced backlog of improvement items that you’re tracking and monitoring.

Each individual item in and of itself may feel like it’s too large to solve, but if you look for the minimum valuable product (MVP) in each area for improvement and break them down into smaller pieces much like you would a feature, then this list becomes much more manageable.

This is also where I’d suggest updating the list frequently. It’s easy to get caught up on what was done yesterday or last week but not plan too far ahead into the future because there are so many unknowns when it comes to changing environments.

Keep a gratitude journal for your small incremental wins and big ones too!

  • Keep a gratitude journal for your small incremental wins and big ones too!
  • Capture a list of the small incremental (and hopefully some big) wins you’ve achieved throughout the course of each and every sprint. This will help you to stay motivated and boost your mood, which is also good for your team’s happiness as well as productivity.
  • How often? At minimum you should capture this once a sprint, but try doing this at the end of each day or before your team’s standup. Starting your day by creating a list of your wins is a great way to start the day feeling successful!
  • Why? Writing down things that make you happy helps to reinforce those feelings, so when you need motivation on those hard days where nothing seems to go right and everyone around seems to be out to get you, then a quick look through this list will help put things into perspective again.
  • And on those extra hard days where you just can’t muster up an ounce of positivity, crowd source it to your team. Asking your team to give you a few gratitude bombs from time to time is a great way to feel recognized even if it isn’t spontaneously awarded. The bonus effect is that you’ll start to notice others doing the same, and boy won’t that make you feel good!

Seek out a community of agilists to collaborate with outside of your organization

One of the best ways to stay motivated as a scrum master in a low agile culture environment is to seek out a community of agilists to collaborate with outside of your organization. This group of people will help you to remain focused when you’re doubting your capabilities as a scrum master and can offer advice on what works well for them in their organizations. Additionally, leveraging an external community of agilists also helps to discover a diverse set of solutions that you may never had considered without seeking an external perspective. Collaborating with other agile coaches and scrum masters is important for your own personal growth, as it allows you to network with other innovative agilists. At first you might start asking more questions than you answer, but you’ll be amazed at how good it feels when you start reciprocally contributing your ideas back into the group. You’ll be even more amazed when you realize that others value your perspective! If you’re not able to get your ego boost internally, then an external community is just what you need!

If life keeps tossing you lemons maybe it’s the universes way of saying you need to learn the recipe for lemonade

When you keep running into the same problem over and over again it’s perfectly natural to want to find a change of scenery. You could leave the company and find a new job, or you can reframe the problem as an opportunity to learn new ways of influencing others. When we experience failure in our work, our tendency is often to blame external factors like management or colleagues, but this doesn’t solve anything. When we take responsibility for what has happened and use it as an opportunity for self improvement then we can go on making progress in our career path despite any setbacks along the way! When faced with challenges at work consider how much better equipped your team would be in having your evolving strength and confidence as a leader to guide them to able to effectively communicate their needs through regular retrospective?


If you want to stay motivated as a scrum master in a low agile culture environment, then you should try to understand the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is something that comes from within us and it’s based on our own personal experiences. On the other hand, inspiration comes from outside of us—from other people or things in our lives. If you’re struggling with staying motivated as a scrum master in a low agile culture environment, then I encourage you to find some inspiration from others who have been successful at doing so!

Takeaway: Use your personal experiences and those of others to help motivate yourself!

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