Shu-Ha-Ri: Karate for ScrumMasters

Sometimes I hear new ScrumMasters ask how closely they should stick to the rules of the Scrum Guide. For example, should they facilitate the Daily Scrum very strictly, expecting everybody to answer the three questions, or should they let the team self-organize, exchanging whatever information the team members want to give.

And surprisingly, a litte bit of Karate knowledge is really useful in situations like this.

Karate, just like in many other martial arts, knows three levels of learning, that every student passes through on his journey from their first steps to true mastery.

The first level, called “Shu”, literally means something like “obey”. The student imitates others and follows the rules closely. The idea is that only those that know the rules, will be able to break then safely without losing the art.

The second level, named “Ha”, might be translated as “break” or “liberate”. In the Ha level, students learn to adapt the rules to the circumstances. They learn about the principles behind the rules and learn when the principle is better followed by breaking the rule than by obeying it. So they move beyond just following the rules.

The third level is called “Ri”, which means something like “leave” or “cut off”. At this level, students leave the established rules behind to develop their own way, guided by their impulses. A lot of experience and mastery of the rules is essential in order to apply the ideas behind the established theory freely and independently.

As a ScrumMaster, you can apply this directly to your team. Are they new to Scrum and still have trouble following the rules? Then they are at the Shu level. Help them by providing structure and assurance. Teach them the rules friendly, but firmly. Assure them that these rules have helped thousands of teams to become successful, and don’t be afraid to take on a strong facilitating role.

After a while, the team will know the rules and is ready to move on to the Ha state. Then it’s time to step back and let them find different ways to collaborate during the Daily Scrum. Make sure that they know the true purpose of the Daily Scrum, and encourage them to experiment with different ways to reach this purpose.

How do you know if your team is ready to move from Shu to Ha? Just watch them. If they are able to follow the rules, lighten your facilitative touch. Will they start breaking the rules in order to hide some dysfunction? Then they’re not ready, yet. Go back to teaching and be patient. Or will they start to discuss how to better follow the principles? Then your team has reached the next level.

So this is, how Karate can help you how to better support your team on its way to learning about Agile and Scrum. If you want to know more about the topic, there are great books to read, e.g. “Coaching Agile Teams” by Lyssa Adkins.

And – just in case you are about to complain that I didn’t mention when and how to move your team from Ha to Ri: this means that you have to reach Ri yourself, first. And then you won’t need this blogpost to tell you…. :-)

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