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Should you let others call out a team member that isn't living up to commitments in front of the team. i.e. during the stand up how do you properly address a team member that calls out another team member for not committing to timelines?

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    Please add more detail. In what way is the team member making no effort? Do they sit in a corner playing mobile games? Do they not come to the standup? Are they too shy to speak? – nvoigt Oct 24 '18 at 6:10
  • Thanks all for the great answers, despite the ambiguity of the description. – TsTeaTime Oct 25 '18 at 7:40
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TL;DR

A coach is not a manager, and is not even formally a member of the team in any agile framework that I'm familiar with. Your job is to help the team be self-actualizing, empower them through knowledge of their chosen framework, and then let them learn through experience.

Do not attempt to manage them! That is a role failure, and will result in lost trust and an inability to function as the team's (and possibly the organization's) trusted advisor on how to implement a truly agile framework.

Analysis and Recommendations

Should you call out a team member that isn't living up to commitments in front of the team. i.e. during the stand up how do you properly address a team member that does not make any effort to get work done, start a task, or collaborate?

"Calling someone out" is a power play, and an attempt at public shaming. This has no place at all within a framework that embraces agile principles.

Furthermore, your question is predicated on a subjective assessment rather than a team-based retrospective. You have made a personal judgment rather than coaching your team to identify process problems. Even if your personal judgments are correct in attributing whatever process problems you see to a single individual (which I find a dubious proposition at best), the coaching opportunity is to help the team inspect-and-adapt in order to:

  1. Identify whether there are any actual problems that are impacting the project or the team itself.
  2. Identify process problems that are measurably impacting the project.
  3. Identify root causes of any identified process problems.
  4. Empower the team to crowd-source solutions within their scope of control.

In most cases, a good coach will help the team as a whole learn to take ownership of their own processes, and empower them to inspect-and-adapt to create their own solutions and route around problems. It's actually not your job as a coach to fix problems; instead, it's your job to teach the team how to fix their own problems!

In the rare cases where the root problem really is a poorly-performing individual who cannot be rehabilitated within the team, and if the team (not you) can't successfully manage the problem internally, then it is the responsibility of the team (again, not you) to raise the issue with line management.

Don't Overlook Teachable Moments for Leadership

Sometimes the only possible solution is to "vote a team member off the island." However, this should be a last resort, and is typically a whiffy smell that indicates that team selection, formation, and ongoing self-organization are coaching opportunities that you've missed, either with the team or with the organization's leadership.

A good agile coach must coach the team and the organization in the proper application of the chosen framework. Throwing a bunch of people together and calling them a team isn't agile, and don't create an insta-team. While coaching has to begin with wherever the organization is when you start there, and with whatever resources the team has on hand at the time, truly great coaches go beyond the here-and-now to inspect and adapt the deeper organizational processes at work.

In this case, I deeply suspect that the team:

  1. was not self-selected,
  2. is not mature enough to identify and manage internal problems, and
  3. is not empowered to deal with process problems.

Management has attempted to solve the second problem by hiring a coach, but management alone is responsible for the first and last items in that list. As uncomfortable as it may be, your job as a coach is to explain management's role in the process, and coach them towards more agile management styles that provide for real team empowerment and self-organization.

  • I think Todd hits on an important note re: team empowerment. Asking questions that get to the root of the issue (5 why's seems appropriate here) will be more helpful than treating the symptoms. This goes for both the team and management responsible for making sure the team has everything it needs to succeed. – dom_michalec Oct 29 '18 at 18:30
  • I agree with the approach, although (unfortunately) it's hard for me to understand how a team can be "self selected". How does this work? A company has a pool of people and then one assigned people chooses another and then these two agreed on who should come next and so on? I believe that's a question in itself, will raise something on it. – Tiago Cardoso Mar 1 at 7:10
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Regardless of what kind of effort is missing, I'd talk with the team member first. You need to figure out his motivation. Why is he non-committing? A fishbone-diagram or the Five-Whys-technique are perfectly suited for this. I always try to dig deeper. Did his behavior change in the last weeks? Is he facing personal issues? Is he tired and overworked? How is his behavior effecting the team?
And if personal coaching/motivation/facilitating isn't working, you'll need the help of management to resolve this situation.

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Answering the question as is: you have already applied judgment in terms of ownership of the behavior you are observing. Work not getting done is "lack of this person's effort;" tasks not start is due to "this person's unwillingness to start;" and lack of collaboration is due to "this person not wanting to collaborate."

Since you have already drawn conclusions to root cause, there would be no reason to bring this up in front of others unless you intent is humiliation. There would be no right strategy for humiliation.

If your conclusions are not yet firm and you are trying to understand the drivers of the observed behavior you're seeing, then bringing this up in the team could be appropriate if you used the right words, which is another way of saying don't accuse him of being at fault. "What are the blockers we are experiencing in finishing a task by deadline?" "What are the blockers we are experiencing in getting tasks initiated?" "Are we collaborating the best we can?" More general-type questions where "we" is used to show that the team is still a team.

If your conclusions are firm, then you have a personnel issue and the best strategy is to hand said personnel issue in private. Bring up your observations emotion free and based on fact, iron out a tactical and measurable plan, measure against the plan, take appropriate action. And all of this is private and confidential.

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If possible, avoid calling out the individual. Instead, call out the impact you believe they are having.

For example:

We didn't manage to complete the three web stories we brought in to the last sprint. Can we discuss as a team the reasons why? Perhaps the stories need to be broken down more or maybe we should be pairing to work on them?

Ideally this kind of conversation takes place during the sprint retrospective.

The idea is to focus on the team's performance rather than on one individuals behaviour. Perhaps a team member appears problematic because they haven't got the right training? Maybe there is a way of shifting them on to work that motivates them more?

Focusing on ways to improve the team will keep the team positive and will avoid tension that may adversely affect the team's performance.

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