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Agile in the Downturn: How the team Dynamics changes?

Posted by Jai on May 6, 2009

Some time back I tried to cover the topic Agile Development: Balancing Individualism and Teamwork . There after a lot similar topics has been discussed around like Teamwork Is An Individual Skill and few further follow up discussions.

Now in the current economic climate how Agile will behave, how it can help and how the team dynamics may change is something which is bothering me more now a days. Allan Kelly covered something similar here Agile in the Downturn. In general terms also people do talk about it like Teamwork takes a dent in recession and Recession ‘killing of teamwork’.

What are the Influencing Factors?

Allan mentioned,

Agile is particularly vulnerably to job cuts because of the emphasis on self-organizing teams and continual improvement through learning. People will only speak openly and act independently when they trust the organization. When people are being laid off and decisions are being taken about who to keep and who to let go trust is lost and ideas unspoken.

Lets have a look at how the current economic climate introduces so many influencing factors in the team which effect the team dynamics.

  • Layoffs: People are being sacked and you may be the next one. How can you expect the team to continue on the same terms. Fear and job insecurity, hard to expect the people to keep the high team spirit.
  • Delivery Pressure: The organization need to save the business, it may be the question of survival. The whole team is under pressure for quick delivery. The pressure to meet client expectations more is high. How long such a team can work well and survive, soon enough the problems will start to pop up.
  • Unfair Competition: Unfair competition among team members start to prove themselves superior than the others, soon enough the team spirit is lost.
  • Individualism on center stage: Individualism take the center stage and people start thinking more about their individual performance rather than achieving goals as a team.
  • No Motivations: People either go through salary cuts or no appraisals. This may cause to have no motivation and which in turn will effect the work and definitely the team spirit.
  • No more Openness: People feel hesitant to make a point to avoid to fall into any kind of controversy or fight, no more fresh and open ideas any more.
  • Extra Consciousness: People become extra conscious not to make any mistake and won’t take responsibility of any mistakes done etc. which will impact the team in negative way.
  • Fear and Insecurity: People will always work in fear and insecurity in such times. How the team will be able to give its best under such scenarios.
  • Stronger will survive: People start proving themselves superior, better and stronger by any means, may be by proving other weak.
  • Buttering game: People start impressing the management may be start with scrum master, to prove their point. Some try to make impression by showing other members not capable of things.

How the Teams Behave?

As Martin mentioned, the steps how people behave in case of problems:

1. Lay blame (“Which one of you code monkeys broke the build?!”)
2. Justify (“It’s always broken anyway…”)
3. Shame (“I must be the worst developer EVER!”)
4. Obligation (“I guess I have to fix the build since that’s what we agreed on.”)
5. Take responsibility

Do these steps take different shape in the current scenarios and how people can perceive and react based on the above factors. And how is it  different for collocated teams and distributed teams?

We are talking about so many individuals here, may be having different problems who behave in different ways and asking them to act as a team in such situations.

Collocated teams:

  • Blame-game: The problem become more visible here, no one taking responsibility and laying blame in case you find the problem. Being on same side, people start pointing it out more to take advantage of it.
  • Target the weak: People start targeting someone who is weak to prove themselves stronger here.
  • Team-up: People start making small groups to show more team spirit during these times and showing to be more proactive.

Distributed teams:

  • us vs them: Such is the times when the concept of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ comes open in the team. Like the onsite team is not doing good or the offshore team is not capable of handling things etc.
  • Question distributed development: People start asking this question more often that the distributed development itself is not working.
  • Team-up for personal gain: In some cases people try to make groups between some onsite-offshore team members to show themselves better than the others.

Now what all this leads to is more of laying blame on other team members, justifying yourself even if you have made mistake, not accepting the mistake and no more obligations as a team member and avoiding the responsibility.

What can be Done?

The job is a bit hard here to keep everything under control. But think twice that it is the same team or if you talk about the proven agile facts that it works very well. You still just need to work as a team. Few things which may help:

  • Communicate: Like any other problem, just talk about this problem also. Work it out as team, may be to fight against the odds which may be economy, organization or the few offenders.
  • Motivate: Try to find some different motivations for the team, work all together and find something.
  • Understand and Help: Understand, talk and help each other a bit more.
  • This will also pass: Make it clear that this will also pass. Like other things this is also temporary.

These are the times when all the bad things are more prone to happen and handle these things same way as in other cases but to be more careful and proactive in handling these issues. People do talk about leadership strategies during these times, well again do what you can and what makes sense and rest will happen whatever is to happen.


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