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Background:

The development manager (my boss) and the scrum master like to introduce changes. My approach to changes is to ask why we need the change, explain why I think it is not useful (if it really isn't) and then solicit the opinion of all the members. In the past, the changes were accepted by the team and of course I co-operated. Recently though, as the team has gained a better understanding of agile, the trend has been rejection, even though the team waits for me to say something first (holdover from "don't question superiors" culture).
In a private meeting, the development manager told me he feels that while my suggestions are valuable, I am inflexible because I always refer to the working agreement & my approach is abrasive and confrontational because I question every suggestion.
He has ordered me to take communication classes but not to stop actively participating in the agile events.

My question is: what is the best way to handle communication within scrum? How can an environment be created where there is discord in the team without members being punished for it?

  • can you simplify / clarify your problem, and highlight your questions, so that we can help you better. – Amir Serry Dec 14 '19 at 20:43
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I would recommend having a discussion with the whole team, the development manager and the Scrum Master present.

The topic is: How much autonomy should the team have?

Scrum typically gives the team a great deal of autonomy. This is because:

  • Teams that make their own decisions tend to take responsibility for those decisions and adopt them better
  • Teams tend to be closer to the problem and so in a better place to make decisions
  • Decision making often helps to develop individuals and so the capability of a team may get better as they make more decisions themselves

However, a lot of organisations may be uncomfortable with empowering teams. Reasons for this include:

  • There is a command & control culture in place
  • There is a hierarchy that may be undermined by an empowered team
  • Accountability may lie elsewhere (for example, with your development manager) in which case there may be a disparity between accountability and authority
  • Job roles/titles may be undermined - is the development manager still a manager if the team is making decisions?

The outcome of the discussion would be a decision of how much autonomy the team will be granted and how it will be implemented. At least with this approach everyone knows where they stand and there is less risk of conflict and disagreement.

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Are you working on a multi-cultural environment?

If the answer is NO:

You may be facing problems because of unclear roles and responsibilities.

There's no Development Manager role in Scrum. I assume that's some sort of architect, responsible for the more complex decisions... nevertheless, if the fact you're challenging decisions is being considered something bad, it could be because you may be stepping into someone's toes.

If the answer is YES:

You may be facing a cultural clash, either from your company or one (or more) peers.

Different cultures tend to perceive decision challenges differently, oftentimes putting people into embarrassing situations. Working on a multi cultural environment myself, I can't reinforce how important and useful was to me to read The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.

Below you can see a few examples of cultures and how they differently address some communication aspects. On it you can see that western cultures tend to be more openly confrontational whereas eastern cultures are less confrontational.

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How can an environment be created where there is discord in the team without members being punished for it?

Well, it’s not about “how” and more about “where”.

I’ve seen both environments and it’s completely up to you to decide what you will do in case you’re not comfortable with it: try to change it or move to another one.

I personally don’t like to work in an environment where a single person dictates how things should be, I’m more inclined to enjoy a collaborative environment where everyone has a voice.

Have you tried talking to him and explaining what are the advantages of doing what you want and what are the disadvantages of doing what they want?

Maybe he is open to listen and change, but there is no other way to find out unless you ask.

If you decide to take on that path, I suggest you to bring data with you to show them why what you say it’s the way to go.

Worst case they will disagree.

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