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INSIGHTS / Articles

Dealing with Different Personalities in Scrum Teams

 18 Jul 2017 
INSIGHTS / Articles

Dealing with Different Personalities in Scrum Teams

 18 Jul 2017 

In the drive to deliver quality software to the customer faster, moving to a more team-based collaborative approach in projects is becoming increasingly popular. However, there are several challenges resulting from team members who display different communication or personality styles.

The Dominant Ones

Think about someone you may have worked with or even know socially who has a dominant personality. They often attempt to lead conversations, interrupt others and get everyone on board with their way of thinking, even if it is not the right way. They often don’t let people get a word in, are very direct and assertive to the point of being aggressive, and make the majority of decisions.

These are the “it’s my way or the highway” types, and need to be made aware of their behaviour and the impact it has on the team. If people feel their views are going unheard, they may get fed up and frustrated, and subsequently close up and stop voicing their opinions entirely.

As you can imagine, this is not acceptable on Agile teams where communication, collaboration and participation from every team member is crucial to the team’s overall success. If you have the right skills on the team, each member provides valuable input into tasks such as planning, estimation, analysis, design, coding and testing. 

If your dominant person is a developer, they are likely to lead the conversation during poker planning to estimate user stories. Conversely, the business analyst and tester may consider the solution from another point of view, which could impact the overall effort required to deliver that story. Not only is this setting the team up to fail, you’ll find team morale drops and animosity towards the developer grows.

If you encounter this situation, remember that Agile is about openness, honesty and trust within the team. Team members, including the dominant personality, need to talk amongst themselves to work through the issues.

If you cannot reach a solution during the Sprint, discuss it in your retrospectives and talk openly about how team morale, and potentially their ability to deliver on their commitments, is being slowed down. As a team, ensure all members are aware of the value that each person adds and how their input is essential to the team’s success.

If you are unable to resolve and team members continually struggle to get a word in, then raise it with your Scrum master who is responsible for removing impediments. This does not mean removing the dominant person from the team but finding other solutions, such as gaining a better understanding of the person through profiling with the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or similar.

“Listen to Me!” vs. “Don’t Listen to Me”

But what if the Scrum master is the dominant person? Normally, a Scrum master should never try to influence the team in activities, such as estimating the effort to complete a user story.

Imagine an Agile team breaking down the story into tasks and discussing how it will be created. This is when they do their first round of poker planning and come up with each team member’s respective scoring. While the highest and lowest numbers are deliberating on their reasoning, the Scrum master interrupts with, “surely it won’t take that long, so just choose the lowest number”.

If you find that your Scrum master possesses a similar personality as the above example, try to work with them to identify the best way to utilise those traits. It can be quite handy to have an assertive person on the team during different situations, such as when a product owner is attempting to continually change the priority of user stories within the current Sprint.

The Scrum master can discuss the impact of changing scope and challenge the product owner if needed. For example, they can question the effect and repercussions of removing a task if others are already in progress.

Agile teams require interaction and participation from all team members. As previously highlighted, each member adds value in their effort to deliver the product that the customer wants.

While dominant personalities can cause problems in an Agile project, you may also have passive and/or conservative people on your team who are reluctant to speak up, even if they have something valuable to say. These people with a typically quiet nature can struggle with speaking up and giving their input during Scrum meetings, such as Sprint planning.

Agile requires a different mind-set from individuals, where soft skills such as communication are crucial to the success of the team. That’s why quiet or conservative team members need to challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zones and actively participate in team discussions.

In practice, a self-managing and self-organising team needs to hold discussions in order to try and resolve issues amongst themselves, only escalating to the Scrum master if they cannot.

Final Thoughts

As new teams form, it is beneficial for all members to understand the four stages they typically go through. After all, you can’t expect a team to perform well when they first come together.

The stages are:

  1. Forming – Where things are quite rosy and everyone gets on nicely. Individuals are positive and generally make an effort to get to know each other.
  2. Storming – Where a bit of conflict arises as the team members start working out each other’s style of working and communication, which may cause some frustration and uncertainty.
  3. Norming – As the team starts to resolve the issues, they appreciate and respect each other, and work towards a common goal.
  4. Performing – The optimal phase, where the team is high performing and takes action to address any issues or challenges they encounter.

When a team fails to address the impacts of having a dominant or passive person, they typically do not pass the storming stage or progress to the norming one. In essence, it will not become the high performing team it aspires to be. Thus, it is a beneficial to use psychometric indicators such as MBTI to help people learn about different work styles and strengths.

Become a Scrum Master

The world would be a boring place if we were all the same, so embrace the difference in people. Even so, it is important to identify different communication styles that may adversely impacting the team, and take actions to address them. After all, we all prefer to be part of a happy and engaged team that is high performing and successful.

Need help kick-starting a cohesive and collaborative Agile team environment? Our Agile coaches can put your team on the right path. We can also assist with Agile training. With the iSQI Scrum Master Pro certification course, you too can become a better leader for Agile project work.

Kate Ellery

Director - People Experience & Strategy

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