My first “Ask Me Anything” (part 4)

The fourth part of my first ever AMA session.

The first question was about learnings, the second question was about fears and the third question was about challenging moments and motivation.
In this part the question is about what I would do if the enemy sleeps deep inside the team.

How to deal with toxic elements within the team, who work to “undermine” the Scrum Master’s work? Elements of the team itself. Which makes the challenge bigger (I think). When they are external elements you have to unite the team to protect them from these influences. Internal elements provoke, or attempt, a division that causes discomfort. When will it be time to “give up” someone for the greater good of the team?

Pedro Barata (Scrum Master at Banco BPI)

Pedro brought two difficult questions:

How to deal with toxic elements within the team, who work to “undermine” the Scrum Master’s work ?

I would try to reach him but instead of picking the fight, I would try to understand his intentions, his ideas. Why does he want to undermine their team performance? Does he have an issue with your upper-management? Does he not believe in Agile? Does he have ambitions to take your role? Or probably that is just his way to be?

Picking a fight would jeopardize your position within the team, as the Agile Manifesto’s defender.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Have you tried to reach to that person? Is there room for improvement in the ways you approached him?

You are the defender of the manifesto, so you should fight for it, promote it, and improve it.

Have you tried to buy him a beer and talk about why does he always fight against your work?

Look, you will have a side-effect while going that length with that dude. The rest of the team will see that you are trying to fix the situation. They will be glad to have someone in their team who fights for their individuals and for their interactions – “If he is doing this for him, he will do it for me if I’m in need of”.

Meanwhile having that silent fight, I would let my boss know about everything. Because if the time arrives, someone has to go. But in the meantime, he might have some ideas as well on how to fix it, or how to bring back that guy onboard.

Your manager should not be the last one to find out.

Remember, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Talk with the dude and talk with your boss.

When will it be time to “give up” on someone for the greater good of the team?

Of course there are situations that you should not tolerate, like being extremely rude, gross or violent to you or someone on the team (basicaly the stuff that no one should have to put up with in a decent society).

I believe it depends on the circumstances. But I will take it as the follow up of the previous question.

Let us consider that that guy is just a toxic dude, someone that talks on your back in the water cooler.

I would first try to understand why is he having that kind of behaviour..and would try to help him surpass that and promote some change.

I will have a question back to you – Do you have the power to fire him?

Lets suppose you have that power.

After trying my best to reach in, and without success, I would have a “let go” meeting with him:

“Dude, your behaviour is getting into the team. I tried to reach you but with not much success. This is it, your yellow card !! The team, nor I, will not tolerate anymore that kind of behaviour. I will give you one more try, lets say a month. If your behaviour does not change, it is a goodbye.”

Easier said than done, I know. For some it might work as a wakeup call. Eventually, it might be the time for a definitive let go.

If you reach that moment, don’t make a scene about it. You have tried to promote change, you even gave an ultimatum as an additional chance. You have done what it is supposed to. Time to move on … both of you.

If you do not have the power to fire him, please please please, let your manager know about it. Do not let the situation reach to a point that the entire team is hurt, and the performance drops like a rock. Your manager should know what is happening inside the team, and the ultimate decision should came from him.

There is also an additional option (see it as an extra), you quit !

Sometimes the toxicity lives inside the entire organization, and you are the “rare breed”. If it is the case, do not be ashamed. Try your best … but do not forget to think about your growth – as a person and a professional – as well.

To wrap up, I have been in a similar situation before, more than once…and I have tasted, personally, those three outcomes.

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