Agile The Scrum Diaries

The Scrum Diaries – #2: Your Command and Control are Killing My Motivation and Creativity

The Scrum Diaries


As I’ve grown in my understanding of the concept of self-organizing development teams I’ve become more aware of the ill effects of command and control management. It takes the life out of people, makes them dull, limits them, disrespects them. At the same time, the person doing the controlling feels stressed, maybe angry, alone with the weight of the whole team on their shoulders. All they while, they are neglecting the untapped potential of the creativity, motivation, and trustworthiness of the rest of the team.

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

– Manifesto for Agile Software Development, 2001

Motivated Individuals

I have a son who is almost two. Boy, is he eager to be involved in things I do! For instance, we have a small trash container in our kitchen. If I take the bag out and tie it up, he is immediately ready to carry it outside. At first he was satisfied with dragging the bag across the floor, out the door, and onto the porch. But now he insists on taking it down the steps and over to the garbage can outside. He’s had to learn to not drag the bags on the concrete so they don’t tear. He has to accept my help when the bags are a bit heavy. He accepts the fact that he’s not tall enough to put the bags into the can outside and that’s something I need to do for him right now. Every time the two of us complete this task together, he is as happy as a clam! He claps his hands, or wipes them together in a job-well-done fashion, and walks with a bounce in his step.

Sometimes I’ve short circuited this process by barking commands at him. Sometimes I haven’t felt like going all the way outside and I’ve demanded that he leave the bag on the porch. He doesn’t get to venture outside. The bag is conveniently out of my way. And most times he is angry, even lying on the floor crying.

The analogy can be applied to development teams. People might not be on the floor crying after having orders barked at them, but their motivation has been stifled just the same. When they sense they are not trusted they will hold back. They won’t venture off the porch. They will take the bag only as far as they feel it is safe to go. If the environment doesn’t allow them to venture, they will hold back in fear of being blamed if something goes wrong.

And that is where I have seen people cry at work: when they have been blamed for making a mistake and shamed for it. That is a negative end to which command and control sometimes leads. When everyone’s work direction is under the control of one person and at the mercy of that person’s whims, when their outcomes don’t measure up, someone must be blamed. So the thinking seems to go.

A Better Environment

What if we provided a better environment for our development teams? What if we made it okay to fail, to drag the bag across the concrete and learn that it could tear and make a mess? And not only that. What if we created a trusting environment in which people could innovate? There is so much creativity inside the average human being! It just needs to be given a little breathing room. If we show people that we respect them and that we are curious about what they think, we just may be amazed at what develops. Someone might come up with a more efficient way to take the trash out. Or maybe a team will even find ways for us to produce less trash to begin with.


I intend to be the type of Scrum Master that promotes a better environment, one where learning, experimentation, and innovation are valued. I intend to be a better servant-leader. This includes being a servant to those currently operating by control and command by helping them understand a better way. I want to see my team grow and be increasingly successful.

(The Scrum Diaries are accounts of my experiences with Scrum teams during an organizational Agile transformation. There have been, and continue to be, many bumps in the road along the way. We are learning and growing together as a team. I am a certified Scrum Master (PSM I) and a developer. I fill both of those roles on my team. These Diaries primarily address topics related to Agile and Scrum.)

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