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I an an Agile Coach and Scrum Master for a development team.

One of developers has become impossible to work with because of her attitude towards in particular me and I am not sure how to handle it.

Any advice would be most welcomed!

  1. I have only been working with this team for 3 weeks
  2. Team member has said that I have a boring approach to coaching the team and that the previous coach was more fun
  3. Team member speaks up and criticizes every single initiative I present to the team
  4. Team member questions everything and flails between arguments. She doesn't fight one particular point or point of view, she fights for the sake of fighting.
  5. Team member is not a team player and is unwilling to work as a team, very arrogant and always tells the team that she is always right.
  6. Team member is not professional at all. Other team members from other team members are difficult, but they are at least professional.
  7. I would use an analogy for this team. Imagine a bunch of football players who were not interested in playing a game of football, they just wanted to kick the ball around. Now add me, their coach.

I am at odds as I presume this is my job to sort this out.

Update

  • The team is using Kanban and a couple of Agile development methods like XP, BDD etc. So they have a Kanban board, WIP limits etc
  • Initiatives I was referring too were for example coaching them about WIP limits, Kaizen time, high quality demo's etc
  • I think the team member works ok with the team, it is primarily about me, so I guess you could say she is a team player as I am not part of the team. She does not share her knowledge constructively no.
  • My role is very clear, but I guess because there is no strong team manager or team lead, I am trying to compensate for this, by doing things which are not part of my role. My role includes providing transparency about how the team is doing in terms of cycle time, process, coach and foster learning, mediate conflicts, remove impediments or flag to management, deliver coaching on all aspects of self organisation, support backlog refinement.
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    You say your role is very clear. What is it though? As CodeGnome says, a Coach can have very different levels of responsibility and authority. For example, in my current role as an AOL Agile Coach, I am responsible for setting down recommended and required practices. I'm both coaching and building the framework the teams will use. In other roles I've been strictly a "guru on the mountain" waiting for the team to come to me. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Mar 25 '16 at 16:45
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Retrospectives, retrospectives, retrospectives...

When I find a team that is flailing, including flailing at me (been there, done that, got the bloody t-shirt), I will usually start with a simple retrospective.

I use the Speed Boat Retrospective with the focus question of "What makes the team successful". This will quickly give us a wealth of stuff to look at. Then, when the issues are on the wall, I go to Dot Voting (usually 3-4 dots, depending on team size, more dots for smaller teams).

The Dot Voting sets a rank ordered list of issues to look at. From there I start asking the team to come up with ideas for how to address them. You have to move to facilitation now to get the quiet people engaged, "That was a great insight, bossy person. Quiet person, what do you think?"

Because the team developed the list of issues, it means I'm now helping them solve their problems, not telling them their problems.

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TL;DR

You are taking a potential team composition problem and making it your problem. That is not agile; that is a misunderstanding of your role. From an agile coaching perspective, teams need to be guided into assessing and resolving their own bottlenecks, whether it involves technical or human resource issues.

Analysis

I am at odds as I presume this is my job to sort this out.

Not really, no. Your job is to coach the entire team and help them identify the process that works for them. Since they aren't following a formal methodology like Scrum and just want to be "agile," you need to help them define what that means to them rather than to you.

Team member speaks up and criticizes every single initiative I present to the team[.]

Why are you presenting initiatives at all? Unless your executive sponsor has tasked you with a traditional command-and-control role, as a coach your responsibility ought to be to educate the team about common practices, and then facilitate their exploration of their own initiatives. Whether or not this particular individual is really a problem is irrelevant to this particular point, although it is certainly germane to other teaming issues.

[The t]eam member is not a team player and is unwilling to work as a team, very arrogant and always tells the team that she is always right.

This sounds like a problem (if it is a problem) for the entire team. It is not your problem; it is theirs. You need to find out how the rest of the team feels about this person. From the team's point of view, does this person:

  • Help or hinder the team?
  • Add value to the team's process?
  • Pull her own weight within the development process?
  • Share her knowledge constructively with the rest of the team?

If the answers to these and other similar questions are not to the team's liking, then the team has a process problem that the team needs to own up to, and collectively request action from line management to resolve. Voting an unhelpful team member off the island ought to be within the purview of the team itself, or the project's executive sponsors.

Meta-Solution

Aside from spot solutions, the real issue is that your role and authority (if any) are not currently clarified by your executive sponsor. Presumably someone hired you to do a job, fulfill a role, or execute some set of deliverables. Rather than trying guess about the nature of your job, ask someone.

In some cases, agile "coaches" are hired to bring a few agile practices to the table while still functioning in a command-and-control capacity. In others, the management team really wants the team to learn, and to become self-organizing. This often requires a more Socratic approach to educating the team.

In either case, you currently lack direction and authority. Talk to the person you report to about these things, and plan your course of action accordingly.

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    Hey there, thanks for your response. I find your answer very insightful, although I want to give you some more information so that you have a bit more information to go on and then perhaps your solution would be different. I will update my question. – TheLearner Mar 23 '16 at 22:15
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    @TheLearner Clarifying questions is always useful, but if your edits fundamentally change the nature of your question, you really ought to ask a separate question rather than invalidate all the existing answers based on what you've already posted. – Todd A. Jacobs Mar 23 '16 at 22:18
  • OK, well I guess I just expanded my question, I didn't change it but understand you POV. Thanks though for your time – TheLearner Mar 23 '16 at 22:26
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I would recommend 1 on 1's with every Team Member.

Hear them out. Get closer to understanding what drives them, what they like and don't like regarding the current situation. Find out their expectation of your actions, get some ideas on how would they improve the way the Team works right now.

Get them on your side. Explain the situation from your point of view, explain what you want to achieve and try to get them signed up to help you. Try to create a "working together to achieve something great!" atmosphere in the Team. Try to gain their respect.

Regarding

One of developers has become impossible to work with. 1 on 1 with her should be a bit different, but with the same approach.

Understand why is that she behaves this way, and what would change this behaviour. Try to trade off some actions. Agree to try some of her ideas, but get her to agree to change her behaviour in a Team.

End point is- you should find a way to work together. It will not be easy but possible.

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    I like this focus on empathy. "fights for the sake of fighting" suggests to me that the team member has unmet needs which are not clear to @TheLearner. "tells the team that she is always right" can be an expression of "I'm not being listened to". "criticizes every single initiative I present" might mean those initiatives are only seen to benefit the coach not the team. "not professional" suggests very different opinions on what behavior is expected and valued. – Jonah Mar 26 '16 at 19:02
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The last sentence makes it sound like you don't know why you're there(?), and if you don't know, there's a great possibility the team has no idea/will push back as you've seen.

Personally, I like to cut to the chase - bring everyone (including your sponsors) into a room and dig into why you're there/why the team will benefit from coaching, what the larger goals are, what the expectations are from the team's side, how you can best help them, etc. and use tools like root-case analysis to really make some headway. However, that requires a lot of "thick skin" for all involved, and may not work in your org or environment.

  • Thanks Jeff for your response. I think the last sentence alludes to my theory that the team needs a strong team leader or manager not a coach and I guess I am struggling to find the line between the two roles. – TheLearner Mar 23 '16 at 21:33
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This is a difficult situation and I sympathise with you.

Some suggestions:

Consider working with the team to form an agreed set of behaviours and appropriate responses in given situations. This is not something you can impose, it will have to be agreed by concensus with the team.

Explore the motivations of the person you are having trouble with. Try and understand why they are behaving as they are. Do they feel threatened? Do you challenge their authority within the team? Is there something else going on?

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