Hiring For Agile Teams

Episode 92

December 12, 2012


culture teams

The Agile Weekly Crew discuss disrupting Agile teams, hiring and Tuckman's model.

Jade Meskill: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Jade Meskill.

Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Roy vandeWater: And I’m Roy vandeWater.

Adding People To An Existing Agile Team

Jade: Guys, we wanted to talk about adding new people to an existing Agile team. I’m using air quotes here, so my quote unquote Agile team, if I hypothetically had one.

Clayton: If that’s possible.

Jade: If that’s possible, yes.

Roy: How agile would you say they are? On a scale from zero to very agile?


Jade: Fourty‑two.

Roy: That’s pretty agile.


Jade: Depends on what the scale is.


Jade: Let’s just say we have an existing team, they have some existing culture and ceremonies, and virtues, and vices, and all of those things. The organization believes it’s time to add new people to the team. Now what?

Roy: Hire somebody and put them on the team.


Jade: That’s easy.

Tuckman’s Stages Of Group Development

Clayton: The first thing I think that comes to mind is the storming, forming, norming, performing stuff, right? So, maybe you get this Agile team that’s either in the maybe norming stage or performing stage and things are going smoothly, like you’ve mentioned.

They have their set of working agreements or they’ve all agreed to certain things, and, there’s certain processes and they have this team culture. And, then you drop some new person on, and, you tip over the apple cart, they have to start all over again basically.

Roy: So, maybe it’s ideal then, to do it as early as possible so you can start over as early as possible, and, get them performing again as quickly as possible?

Jade: I don’t think any organization really optimizes for not disrupting the teams, right? Someone at some level decides that they need to hire new people, whether that’s, we need to get rid of this budget that we have, or, the team isn’t going fast enough. So, if we just had more people, they’ll go faster. That mapping makes sense in their mind. They’re never going to really…they don’t necessarily care about the teams, the gel of the team.

Clayton: Let’s face it, there’s probably a problem, right? There’s a reason that’s driving the organization to want to hire people, and, it’s probably not because we have so much money that we just need to hire more people.


Jade: Sure. [jokingly] We just have to get rid of all these piles of cash.

Roy: Problems I wish I had.

Increased Pressure To Deliver When Adding Members

Jade: I would assume that the team is not performing to somebody’s standard, right? Now, there’s going to be some subtle, or not, pressure to enhance the team’s performance by adding someone.

Roy: I’ve seen this on a team where the team was consulted, so the management went to the team and said, “Hey, we want you to go faster. We want to get you another person and we’re willing to pay for this person. What do you think”?

In our case, we had the team unanimously go, “No. We’ve got enough troubles as it is. We think that adding a new person to the mix right now isn’t going to really make us faster. It’s just going to make things more complicated and, actually, potentially slow us down, while costing you more money at the same time.”

Clayton: I think, that was a sign of maturity on a team with a similar situation. They all realized that, if you add another person, that’s going to probably cause more problems. Even though, maybe, the team as it is now, from the skills perspective is lacking in certain skills and you could find someone that could fill that gap.

I think the team realized that the overhead it would take and the time it would take to get that person up to speed, just from like a human cultural perspective, was a bigger deal than filling that skills gap in the short‑term.

Jade: What about the team’s response to the assumed short‑fall in their performance? Did they think about it from that side as well?

You Mean Adding People Means We Are Moving Too Slow

Clayton: The one thing that’s interesting when you take the average corporate team, even if it’s an Agile team or Scrum team or whatever it is, if they have lived the traditional corporate life with the traditional corporate managers, then I don’t think they’d make that connection basically. I don’t think they realize that wanting to add a new person means that someone thinks they’re going slow.

Roy: Even if they did, like the team I was on, when they said, “We don’t think that adding this person will make things go faster.” Even if somebody feels they’re under‑performing, “Yes, there’s now pressure to perform better.” But if the team being realistic about, “Even if we add this person, we won’t go faster.” It’s like it doesn’t matter, right?

Clayton: Well, yeah, and the team in whether it’s performance or if it’s skills gap thing, if the team realizes, “Whatever you’re trying to solve, Mr. Manager, by adding this new person, based on what we think, it’s not going to solve the problem.” I don’t know really what the manager can say, other than, at some point, if they really have to do it, they’re just going to assert their authority and just put a person on the team..

Roy: If you need more people for whatever reason, the right thing at that point might be to form a new team. The only problem is, if you have teams working on different products, what do you do? Split off on the products, give to the new team and how do you deal with the main knowledge transfer? If you don’t have enough products, do you spin up a new product? That doesn’t make your old product go any faster, right?

Jade: So what happens if I’m Mr. Manager and I decide that, you know what…You’re getting a new person. What’s going to happen to that team?

Roy: I think part of what Clayton said about them going through the whole forming, storming thing is pretty accurate. It’s probably going to be even worsened by the fact that the team feels betrayed by management, because their opinion didn’t count and now they have this new person that was pushed onto the team that they’re already resentful about, right?

Jade: But I’m doing it for their own good.

Resentment Having a New Team Member Forced Upon You

Roy: It’s like the control podcast that we talked about last week, right? Even if you tell people what to do for their own good, there’s an automatic resentment that happens, where if you let people discover that for themselves, they’re a lot more likely to buy in.

Clayton: But I think that if you were to add that person to the team. If you take a team that is performing to some degree, or they’ve kind of gelled together, a lot of times, I think you’ll see that they all have some certain amount of respect for everyone. So if someone says “Hey we should start… we should pair on every task.” If it’s a reasonable team that has gelled to some degree, they’re not going to just throw that out of hand and think that this person’s crazy.

It’s like, “OK, I’m going to take that as a valid point and we’re going to talk about it as a team and that’s totally acceptable.” Then you throw the new person on and they might have totally different opinions about all the working agreements and all the norms that this team has established already. In reality the team wants to treat them like a normal person, the same as everyone else, but they almost can’t because they’re a newbie right?

So you can’t really treat them with the same amount of respect and you can’t really take their input at face value because they’re this new person, what do they know? They haven’t been around with us this whole time. They haven’t been in the trenches.

Roy: But I think you have that problem regardless of whether or not the team chose to add that person, to bring on that person, right? I think you might have more resentment if they were forced that person by management. But if they chose to hire a new person, you’re still going to run into the same thing at first. I think that’s part of the forming and storming process.

Choosing To Bring On New Team Members

Jade: Yea, to some degree. So, let’s say that the team did choose to bring someone on. They went to the management and said “We want more people.” or “We need this thing.” I could see that even going wrong if the interview process was a traditional interview that had nothing to do with the culture and nothing to do with the team and it was all about technical aptitude and, “Do you answer these five…”

Clayton: So they went through the HR process.

Jade: Yea, they went through the HR process. I would imagine that the team, even though said we want someone, they’re going to get some crappy person they don’t actually want.

Roy: I’ve had that personal experience where I was brought into a team with a fairly progressive interview process, not the centered HR thing and there was still that initial forming storming…

Jade: Oh sure.

Roy: …and all that stuff that was going on…

Clayton: The Tuckman Model says that every time you change a team they will go through that.

Roy: Right, right.

Clayton: The difference is in a mature team. They might go through it quicker, and less painfully. But they will always go through that process. Every time you change that team dynamic.

Jade: To get to maybe another part of this topic…


The Interview Process On An Agile Team

Jade: If I wanted to hire someone else, if the team said that they wanted someone, the team was open to it. What would be a reasonable interviewing process to make sure the team could go through those stages as fast as possible?

Roy: First, I think the team should be as heavily involved in the interview process as possible. I could see HR or management or whatever doing some high level filtering to get the obvious idiots out, but before anybody comes onto the team, every member of the team should have a say in it, I feel.

Jade: In terms of, should it be like a unanimous decision basically? If someone comes in, the team should interview them and they only get hired if everybody says yes?

Roy: Well I don’t even mean just a unanimous decision. I mean, it should be, everybody on the team should have interaction with the candidate too. You can have a unanimous decision where, “Clayton’s the only one that actually talked to this potential hire, but I trust Clayton’s judgment so I’m going to thumbs‑up it.”

But I feel that if somebody’s going to get added to the team, everybody on the existing team should interact with that person and have an opportunity to assess them in their own way.

Hiring Is Expensive, But Getting It Wrong Really Hurts

Jade: So doesn’t that make hiring really expensive?


Roy: Well, how expensive is it when you hire the wrong person and you’ve got them on salary and you can’t fire them? That sounds way more expensive in the long run.

Clayton: That’s a problem for future us though.


Roy: Yeah future us will…

Clayton: For now us, that costs us a lot of money.

Roy: And that’s totally discounting the idea of introducing this bad apple into the team and completely poisoning their chemistry and now you don’t just have the cost of the person you just hired that doesn’t fit, but also the cost of paying everybody on the team now that’s not performing because they all hate their lives.

Jade: So what are you trying to say?

Roy: I’m trying to say that one bad person can totally ruin everything on that team.

Clayton: So hire slow?

Roy: Yeah.

Where To Look For The Right People

Jade: Well, and I think what’s interesting though is if you take that as the perfect advice and say I going to hire slow. I would guess that most people that are development managers, probably the channels they’re using to find people are the wrong channels in the first place.

So this is like a very painful lesson to learn of I want to hire people that are going to be a good fit for the team, that are going to fit culturally, that all these other things, all the check‑boxes that are not the traditional HR check‑boxes, but when I get the recruiter people, I get the wrong people every single time.

Roy: So maybe you should start looking at the local bar.


Jade: Well, where would I go, right? How would I know a better place to find people? The only thing I have is, I submit something that goes through HR and they do something with it and I get people back. What am I supposed to do?

Roy: Yeah.

Jade: You would never hire anyone it seems, right?

Clayton: What happens sometimes, if a team becomes self‑aware and empowered to make that decision and now they don’t ever want to hire anybody ever again.

Jade: I can imagine that would happen, right?

Clayton: Yeah, we’ve seen it happen in places that we’ve worked where it’s become almost impossible for them to hire people.

Roy: I don’t know if that’s necessarily always a bad thing, though. It can be, because it reduces the potential for growth, but maybe…


Jade: We’re successful. Our product’s doing well and we need to grow. How do we do it well?

Roy: Well, there’s…

Clayton: I can tell you all the things not to do because I’ve done them all.

Splitting Teams

Roy: We’ve talked about the two pizza rule, right? A team of seven, plus or minus two, once you get beyond nine people becomes really hard for the people within that team to really know the other people they work with. So once you get to that point and you have to grow, I think that’s the time to spin up a new team.

I think that’s difficult, especially from a domain knowledge perspective, but at a certain point, you have to split off into a new team.

Jade: How does that fix the problem?

Roy: Fix which problem? Which one are you…

Jade: If we’re trying to add people to the company, right, even if we split into new teams…

Roy: That’s tough. I would try to take the existing team, like if you have a team of nine, try to split that into a team of five and four or something like that.

Jade: Now we need to hire four more people.

Roy: If the team says that we don’t want to split, we like working with each other too much that we don’t want to split up, that’s really tough. I don’t have an answer for that.

Jade: Well, and I think that’s just the reality of if you want good teams that are going to gel, then it’s going to take time for that to happen and if you need to change that, then there’s going to be a penalty. In your example if the product is growing and you need to hire more people and you need to expand and do more stuff, whatever that is, then that’s a price you have to pay, right?

Changing Things Up Necessary For Growth

Roy: I guess if you really have good people on the team that are high performers and want to learn and change and all that, at a certain point once they’ve been working with each other long enough, they are going to reach an equilibrium in which they stop gaining as much advantage from each other because they’ve already learned most of what they can from each other. If they’re really high performers, they’re going to want new blood into the system that they can learn from.

They’re going to want to bring in people that are better than themselves so that they can gain new skills and gain new insights from. So if you have the right people, at a certain point, they will no longer be content with the people they currently work with and will insist on bringing in new people.

Clayton: Yeah, I guess you could say that. It’d be a smell If you didn’t ever want to hire anyone else.

Jade: So let’s take the other side of that coin and say that I’m a manager of some sort and I’ve realized that this is what’s going on. For the health of the organization, we need to grow but my team doesn’t want to do it. How do I help them understand the need and the appropriateness of this growth?

Transparency Is Key In Dealing With Teams

Clayton: So, part of it is being fully transparent. I think it sounds dead simple, but the idea of sitting down with the team and explaining to them, hey, this is where I see the company heading and I really feel like we need more people to solve this particular problem where I want to start up this product or I want to scale this or whatever, I think the first step is being totally transparent with the team about why you need to grow.

Jade: Yeah and I think you could let the team be self‑organizing and then explain that you want this to happen and the company’s growing and we need to expand, so how would you guys like to address this? I think that’s probably the safest way.

Obviously people are not going to like that to some degree, but that’s much better than just coming in and saying hey we’ve decided that we’re going to get bigger and we’re hiring two new people and you three are on this time and you four are on this other team and we’ll let you know how it goes, you know? Like that would be way worse than just saying we have this problem, we want you guys to solve it somehow by reorganizing yourselves.

Clayton: So self‑organization.

Jade: Yeah, why not live that up the chain, basically.

Roy: You do run the risk of the team saying we don’t want to change and we don’t care, why do we even need to grow? But I think at a certain point if they are really a good team, they’re going to be respectful of the organization’s needs and find a good solution. Just like they did whenever you had some impossible story for them to do.

Jade: Yeah, that’s good. On that note, we’ll wrap it up here. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you guys next week.

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