What does it mean to have neurodiversity in Scrum Teams and how does that effect the “soft skills” needed? A client said that everyone on a Scrum team needs good “soft skills” referring to communication, collaboration, etc. But how do we account for soft skills with neurodiversity such as ADHD, introversion and autism which may have specific impacts on people’s communication and collaboration styles and effectiveness? As a senior manager, how do you support Scrum Teams to be inclusive and benefit from neurodiversity?
Scrum and Diversity
When it comes to Scrum teams, communication is key. But for neurodivergent team members, such as those with ADHD, introversion, and autism, this can be a challenge. Fortunately, the creators of Scrum designed it to account for neurodiversity.
For example, team members with ADHD may struggle with traditional meetings. In Scrum, however, team members are only required to attend brief, time-boxed, highly participatory meetings. When a Scrum Master facilitates meetings like this, it can help to minimize distractions and make the meetings more tolerable.
Similarly, introverted team members may find it difficult to speak up in large groups. In Scrum, the Scrum Master creates an environment for team members to share their ideas in smaller, more intimate settings such as the Daily Scrum and the Retrospective. Introverts feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, particularly if those meetings have effective facilitators.
Finally, autistic team members may have difficulty with social cues. In Scrum, team members are encouraged to be direct and explicit in their communication. A good Scrum Master encourages transparency and openness which can help autistic team members to better understand what is being said, and to avoid misunderstandings.
Overall, managers should design Scrum teams to be inclusive of all team members, regardless of neurodiversity. By accounting for the unique needs of neurodivergent team members, managers can create Scrum teams which help to create a more effective and cohesive team.
ADHD – Benefits for a Scrum Team
Some aspects of ADHD that might be beneficial contributions to a Scrum team include the ability to:
- Think creatively: People with ADHD are often able to think outside the box, which can be helpful in generating new ideas.
- Focus: People with ADHD often have the ability to hyperfocus on tasks, which can be helpful in getting work done.
- Be spontaneous: People with ADHD often have a spontaneity that can be helpful in keeping team members engaged.
- Be energetic: People with ADHD often have high levels of energy, which can be helpful in keeping team members motivated.
Introversion – Benefits for a Scrum Team
Some aspects of introversion that might be beneficial contributions to a Scrum team include the ability to:
- Think deeply: Introverts often have the ability to think deeply and reflect on ideas, which can be helpful in generating new ideas.
- Focus: Introverts often have the ability to focus intently on tasks, which can be helpful in getting work done, just like with ADHD.
- Be calm: Introverts often have a calmness that can be helpful in keeping team members relaxed.
- Be thoughtful: Introverts often have a thoughtfulness that can be helpful in making sure team members are considered.
Autism – Benefits for a Scrum Team
Some aspects of autism that might be beneficial contributions to a Scrum team include the ability to:
- Think logically: People with autism often think in a very logical way, which can be helpful in solving problems.
- Focus: People with autism often have the ability to focus intently on tasks, which can be helpful in getting work done.
- Be direct: People with autism often have a directness that can be helpful in communication.
- Be honest: People with autism often have a level of honesty that can be helpful in keeping team members accountable.
Challenges for People with ADHD, Introversion or Autism on a Scrum Team
The main challenges that people with ADHD, introversion or autism will have in being on a Scrum team include:
- Difficulty communicating: People with ADHD, introversion or autism may have difficulty communicating with other team members. This can make it difficult to share ideas and work together effectively.
- Difficulty focusing: People with ADHD or autism may have difficulty focusing on tasks. This can make it difficult to get work done.
- Difficulty with social cues: People with autism may have difficulty understanding social cues. This can make it difficult to interact with other team members.
- Difficulty speaking up: People with introversion may have difficulty speaking up in group settings. This can make it difficult to share ideas and be heard by other team members.
- Difficulty networking: People with autism or introversion may have difficulty networking with other team members. This can make it difficult to build relationships and collaborate effectively.
Managing Neurodiversity in Scrum Teams
Some key ways that a senior manager should support neurodiverse people on Scrum teams include:
Providing training: Senior managers should provide training on neurodiversity and how to accommodate for it on Scrum teams. This can help to ensure that all team members are aware of and understand the needs of neurodiverse team members. In particular, Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches should receive in-depth training on the skills needed to support neurodivers team members.
Encouraging communication: Senior managers should encourage communication between neurodiverse team members and their teammates. You can help to ensure that all team members are able to share their ideas and work together effectively. Try to ensure that there are a variety of communication methods used such as online video, online text, in-person, synchronous or asynchronous, etc.
Promoting inclusion: Senior managers should promote inclusion of neurodiverse team members on Scrum teams. This can help to ensure that all team members feel valued and respected, and that their unique perspectives are welcomed. Ultimately, diverse teams who embrace that diversity are stronger and more likely to reach a high-performance state which is good for both the business and the pride of work for team members.
FWIW, here is an in-depth article about some of the severe challenges that may occur with agile and neurodiverse people. Managers must recognize the importance and impact that getting this wrong can have. Scrum SUCKS for a lot of people because of how frequently it’s done badly.