Archive for July, 2011

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Psyching Out Agile Teams

July 13, 2011

I recently read a study[1] on the psychological needs of agile teams. Various factors thought to affect software practitioners’ acceptance of agile orientation were studied. One of the interesting characteristics was the team’s perceived support of their supervisors and coworkers. The study findings show that if team members perceive a high level of support from their supervisors and coworkers, this will lead to a high level of agile orientation in the team, especially for junior team members.

But what about the inverse? What about a senior manager or member of the team who is overtly negative about the agile changes? The study does not discuss this, but I don’t think we need a study to understand what happens when someone, especially someone in a supervisory roll, disparages a change. In the agile teams I have coached, when a negative influence is injected, the team members often “freeze up”. They’ll still do their jobs, but enthusiastically participating, engaging with other members, and doing whatever it takes, fades. You can’t blame them. After all, if they don’t perceive any support, or perceive opposition, why would they work all out for the change? If senior management is not committed why should the team be? This is anathema for a team trying to go agile.

So what to do? I witnessed the solution on a team that had one strong negative voice. But her manager was always very positive on agile. When this negative person’s manager entered the room, as the study’s results would predict, her overall negative behavior stopped and her uncooperative, challenging behaviors disappeared. She became cordial, cooperative, understanding. In a word, professional. In his absence, her behavior relapsed. Over time, with enough exposures and project successes, her negative behaviors began to moderate.

So if you are in this situation (i.e. a negative person is dragging your team down) and you can’t replace this person and you have access to a senior person who is positive, try to get them involved supporting the team, to mitigate the negative behaviors.

This study is another indicator of how important team composition is. Have you encountered individuals whose presence strongly impacted (for good or bad) the behaviors of their team mates?

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1 – Agile Orientation and Psychological Needs, Self-Efficacy, and Perceived Support: A Two Job-Level Comparison; Seger, Hazzan, and Bar-Nahor

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