Jessica Soroky Guest Post 3: How to Best Deal With Cliques in Agile Teams

In high school you can walk into the cafeteria and notice cliques of students with nonverbal social agreements.

They have agreements on how they dress, on who they will interact with, and how that interaction will happen. Some students are popular and some are just difficult to deal with.

High school cliques and our Agile teams are very similar.

I wanted to find a better way to integrate and work with difficult teams I encounter so I read Christopher’s blog post, How Do You Deal With a Difficult Person On Your Team Who…?

All I had to do was to replace “difficult person” with “difficult team.”

I was struggling to interact with one of my teams I had been working with for months on a regular basis as their ScrumMaster.

I began to notice that when I was with them constantly we got along better, we communicated better, and the interactions were much more pleasant.

As I got pulled into more directions, my availability to just hang out with the team and work all day with them dwindled. Now, when I would return for the daily stand up or to ask a question, I was confronted with a level of sarcasm that made it almost impossible to be productive.

When I asked one of the developers what had caused this change in how they spoke to me, she responded sarcastically, “This is just how we talk, did you forget?”

I had forgotten that in that group, in that corner of the open space, this was the agreement.

But just because this group of people agreed to interact this way did not mean everyone working with them would agree to the same treatment.

I have experienced that when a team gains or loses a member they don’t make new societal rules and try to fore conformity. Could this be necessary even if the individual was only joining the team for a few hours or a day?

I had been given feedback that the team was actually quite difficult to work with. So how could I best deal with a difficult team that had such clear agreements within their clique?

I tried to remember that they weren’t intentionally being difficult — they just displayed difficult behavior, like Christopher pointed out in his blog post.

So I turned to the team for a solution, asking them how they wanted to handle how they would interact with people outside their clique.

It took a few sarcastic remarks to find one that seemed to work for the team. They agreed that whenever they encountered a new team or new individual they would ask that person for permission to communicate in this way, and if they were denied, they would consciously try to be less sarcastic.

For the next week I spent a lot of time with the team just observing. Instead of forcing new individuals to conform to how they interacted, they did asked permission each and every time. Some people agreed to their level of sarcasm, and some bluntly stated they would not tolerate it.

No matter how the person responded to their request for permission, the quality of the interaction overall had increased. Those that at one time dreaded working with this team now had the ability to engage in the agreements and integrate fully into the team.

Take a look around your company and ask yourself: how many cliques do you have where you work?

What kind of agreements have they made that affect other teams, making it difficult to work with them, and how could you influence that trend positively?

Jessica Soroky, CSM 

Only 21 years old, Jessica is already a Certified Scrum Master with two years of practice in agile delivery and team leadership. She is also the youngest participant in the The Leadership Gift™ Program and its growing worldwide community of leaders and coaches.  After five years of non-profit development through Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, Jessica continues her leadership journey in state government, not-for-profit, and private sector leadership studies. 

Posted in Coaching, Leadership on 09/25/2013 01:00 am
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