Approaches to Building Agile Teams

Episode 49

March 01, 2012




The Agile Weekly Crew discuss a team member that doesn't fit on the team and hiring quality people.

Episode Notes

Derek Neighbors, Roy van de Water, Clayton Lengel-Zigich and Jade Meskill discuss a variety of topics.

What do you do when someone clearly doesn’t fit in with the team?

How do you get to the point where you can let a team be self organizing and still mitigate the associated risk?

Should you hire quality people or try to get the most qualified people for a particular position?


Derek Neighbors:  Welcome to another episode of the Scrumcast, I’m Derek Neighbors.

Roy van de Water:  I’m Roy van de Water.

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

Jade Meskill:  I’m Jade Meskill.

Derek:  Today I think we’ve got a number of topics. The first one I want to talk about is what you do as a team member and as a management team or a manager when you’ve got somebody on your team that clearly does not seem to be fitting in with the team?

Jade:  Kick them off


Clayton:  Kick them off the island or [inaudible 00:00:40] .

Jade:  Right, or make them VP or special projects or something.

Roy:  Yeah [laughs] . There you go.

Clayton:  Let’s see. Is this a self organizing mature team or any old average team?

Derek:  I would say let’s go from both angles. Let’s go from a mature team but maybe not fully self‑organized, meaning the participants are not necessarily juvenile in behavior. They are adult in behavior but maybe not fully self‑actualized. And then let’s go from a more mature approach. Like how would a mature team approach it?

Roy:  So, I think what I have often seen with less mature teams is they’ll notice the person not fitting in and not saying anything for a while until it becomes more that they can bear. And then they’ll go around the person directly to whoever is in charge of them and complain to that person.

So like, if Derek is being a jerk all the time, then I’ll go to Derek’s manager and I’ll be like, “Hey, Derek’s being a jerk all the time. Can you do something about it?” And then the expectation is that to protect me. Derek’s manager is going to tell him to shut up or whatever.

And I think that in a more mature situation, I would approach Derek directly and have a conversation rather than just telling him that he’s being annoying or a jerk or whatever. And then that type of environment, Derek might realize that he didn’t even know he was coming off that way. And I might not realize that to sensitive to some of the ways that he was saying something or something like that.

And I think that’s how a mature would solve the problem is directly and head on and not try to…they might get a third party involved simply as a mediator to prevent from emotions becoming too heavy, but they wouldn’t get a third party involved as an intermediary.

Clayton:  Yeah, I think on the kind of immature thing, you could talk about the five dysfunctions of a team. So maybe they’re kind of lacking in trust, and they have some sense of false harmony, so in that case, it would be the kind of thing where everything’s kosher and it’s all great, but when this other person’s not around then I’ll complain about them.

I don’t ever do anything about them because people revert back to, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” I’m not going to totally kill myself to save the project. I can pretty much do all the work that I need to get done without involving this person. The two of us will be the heroes on this thing. We’ll figure it out. I think that’s a common pattern.

I think also, when you don’t feel like a team. When you don’t feel like you are working with each other, for each other, then that’s when it’s easier to get management involved and say, “That’s above my pay grade. That’s not something I have to worry about. I’m just here to write code.” I’m going to go tell who ever I think is responsible for that. I’m going to go shove this problem off on them and hope they figure that out.

Roy:  I also think that an on a mature team, diversity breeds innovation. That person who is dissenting, is the least like everybody else, and might be the awkward person, is somebody who’s got a different view point and different experiences, can bring different things to the team that the other team members just aren’t capable of doing. Casting them off, writing them off, or not involving them in the team work, I think, could be a huge mistake.

I have definitely seen cases in which somebody is absolutely poisonous to a team. I don’t know if it has always been irreversibly so. That is definitely a huge danger. I do think that every effort should be made to try to incorporate their dissenting view points. They’re just not fitting into the team. Make it an asset rather than something that hurts the team.

Jade:  I think it’s a very enlightened team that could start to recognize and tackle this challenge. Usually it’s a team that is still in the Tuckman model, in the forming stage. They’re dipping their toe into the storming and getting scared, backing away from that. It’s a hard thing to overcome. It’s against most of our human nature to deal with that.

Clayton:  One thing I think that’s interesting though is that as the team starts developing some common practices, base lines for expectations, or a working agreement, it makes it a lot easier to have those conflicting moments when you can say, “We talked about how quality was important to us. You don’t seem very concerned about the build breaking” for instance. “We all agree that quality is important. What can we do about that?”

I think that really takes the edge off the conflict versus if you don’t have that kind of precedence then you’re talking about “Hey jerk, why did you break the build, like you break the build all the time.” Maybe we haven’t even talked about why that’s important, or why we care about that.

But if you kind of establish those things that makes it easier to say, “Hey, I’m not trying to beat you up personally, I’m just saying I thought we all agreed to this and it seems you’re violating that, like, why is that?”

Roy:  It also seems to be less about me versus you too because it’s not “Hey i don’t like that you’re not breaking the build,” it’s more like “We agreed as a team to not break the build,” right?

Jade:  Right. There’s a lot of studies that show in complex adaptive systems or in human interactions that you need those simple rules to help just kind of maintain civility, right? Then you can talk about violating those shared rules like you’re saying and not about an individual person and their personality.

Derek:  Yes, I’m kind of hearing there’s a few stages to this in the sense it looks like the first team is just not aware that the person doesn’t fit. The second one is that they’re aware that the person doesn’t fit but they probably bad mouth the person behind their back or they just feel like they have the trust probably in management even to deal with it.

Then the third which is where most of the team’s I see somewhere fit into… or maybe they have some trust in management to the point where they are highlighting to management their concern. “I’m concerned about so and so”, “I’m concerned about performance” et cetera.

Then I think the next one is the team that start to directly approach each other. And I think the last kind of model is the team that not only directly approaches but actively solves the problem, right? So it’s one thing to say, “Hey, you’re really pissing me off in ABC,” it’s another things to say “Hey, how do we get to the point where we’re including you in the team better.”

So with that I am sticking with the team concept. I’ve seen a lot of organizations that are undergoing change and wanting to go to self organizing, where they’ve got a team that maybe isn’t performing up to par. They’ve done command‑and‑control and so they try to go to something that’s like a hybrid command‑control. Maybe it’s self organizing, with all sort of reporting structures back or status reporting mechanisms.

They tend to flip flop back and forth between giving the team full reins or enough rope to hang themselves to completely command‑and‑control and ultimately they’re just afraid that products are not going to be shipped on time or they’re not going to be successful.

What are some key triggers you see in that and if you’re a manager in that situation how do you get to the point where you let the team be self organizing and still mitigate whatever risk you’re kind of concerned with?

Jade:  I think again it goes back to some simple rules of engagement. If I were to look at that situation that you’re talking about, I’d say there’s probably some lack of trust happening there, probably for various different reasons. Either people aren’t doing what they say they’re going to do and so the command‑and‑control sneaks back in.

There’s a lot of reasons that you can see that kind of flip flopping around. Kind of trying to sort of self organize. I think the trick with self organization is kind of an all in mentality. You have to give them the container to self organize within, or else they’re really not self organized. Your job as a manager is to figure out what that can look like and at the same time, help you team to not drive off a cliff. It’s a tough balance to find.

Derek:  So I really like a blog post that wa