Managing team members


I am managing a self-organising team in an environment that has historically been very waterfall heavy with some level of success. However, I have one team member (tester) who is reluctant to show initiative and needs to be task managed, as he won’t deliver otherwise and another team member whose own value system is preventing her from becoming more productive and efficient, despite efforts from multiple team members to coach her in regards to best practices and lessons learnt.

I was wondering if anyone has come across similar challenges and would have any advise on handling this situation?



The issues you are dealing with are not unique… we’re all humans after all!

I’ve used lots of “experimental probes” for the teams I serve - to see what the system responds to.

Here’s a toolbox of experiments, happy to unpack them in more detail, via a quick conference call… just find a 20 minute slot that works for you:

  • Team Agreements
  • Moving Motivators
  • Team Values Exercise
  • Fear and Vulnerability Retro
  • Empathy Toy Retro
  • Round Table Reviews

All the above I’ve found useful in developing that magic mix of trust, honest, vulnerability, and collaboration.

I’m also reminded of Lyssa Adkin’s et al’s mention regarding “Dysfunctional Behaviors”

People choose maladjusted behavior generally as a substitute for expressing displeasure with something that they do not agree with: content, process, opinions, other issues. They usually have a valid point. They just don’t know how to be functional about expressing it.


I can be a little cutthroat when it comes to these things… especially if it is the first “pilot” team in the organization and it is imperative you need to make it work.

Pull really hard on the empathy and peer professional respect cards (aka guilt after empathy) for this individual. If the rock can’t be moved on the human front, then maybe they aren’t cut out for the future agile culture.

That being said, some people are in the laggard category of adoption curves and need to see it working before signing up for it. So, the other solution is to swap that member out to another team for a member of similar skills to defer the problem for now (putting the writing on the wall for others if you are successful).


I remember a team member I worked with a few years back. Marc. Everyone told me that he only did exactly what you told him and no more. He was talented, personable, and friendly, but he wasn’t one to raise the bar. He coasted, didn’t make waves, and after putting in his eight hours, he headed home. People tried working with him, and they say they never got anywhere with him. It was always the same.

When I was asked to work with the team, I remember pulling him aside early into my transition. I told him I’d be relying on him for a few things that I wanted to help the team with, and because he was a charismatic guy, I thought he was the right person for the job. He was hesitant but agreed, and from time to time, I had to pull him aside and point out cases where I felt he was coasting. We talked about each, and in some cases, I had the wrong perspective. In others, he admitted he could be doing more.

In fact, I remember making a bet with him. He was a designer with a marginally technical background, and I bet him that I’d deploy code to production before he did. (We had a pretty robust pipeline that required only a bit of technical effort to get a push to prod.) I told him that I’d take him to lunch if I lost. A month later, he was the company’s first designer to deploy code, and I was out $25 for that lunch.

Since I departed that team, I continue to hear nothing but great things about him and what he does. The cost was minimal: some clear expectations, a few tough conversations, and a lunch. I’m sure I could have simply listened to the opinions of others and nudge only lightly, but I’m glad I didn’t.


Sounds like a blue team member!


Hi Karina,

I think you have described a very common problem in the modern workplace.

My advice would be this…

Always remember: Nobody is doing anything dumb on purpose.

It may also help to search online for the Retrospective Prime Directive by Norm Kerth. It’s a helpful paragraph which reminds us that we are all, and our behaviours are all products of our environment.

The tester you mentioned is doing precisely what he/she thinks will be required and rewarded in the workplace. The other team member is adapting their value system to survive in the current workplace.

For example: despite you telling us that you are managing a self-organizing team, that doesn’t mean they are self-organizing. The workplace might (I don’t know) compensate people based on individual performance goals and individual professional development — if so, I’d not expect the staff to work as a team.

Look to the environment or the root causes of those behaviours. Then figure out how to change the environment.


Hi Andy, sorry I have not come back to you until now. I have tried retros with them but I guess I am lacking facilitation skills as my team still is relatively unresponsive. I would love some recommendations if still on offer?


Happy to chat. Find a time that works for preliminary conversation:

Others are welcome … maybe there’s a podcast in there?


Others are welcome to join the conversation:

6/17/2019 3PM ET


@Karina_Gerdes - Thanks for the play time!

The image/story that emerged of the gift/parcel that the team must figure out how to deliver without you being there to guide them turn by turn… so powerful. Can’t wait to see them unwrap it :slight_smile:


I floated the idea in a team brief yesterday but will need to deep dive further into the concept. It seemed to be a light bulb moment for at least some of them though. I will keep the tread updated. Thank you so much for your help - would have never gotten there own my own! Will bring in Parcels for each team member as visual cues next week.


Wondering how things are progressing with the experiment @Karina_Gerdes


@andycleff The Experiment backfired somewhat. I have lost 2 team members (1 I knew was as risk at the time of our conversation, 1 just recently).
I think it may have been better to get the team to create their own mission and goal, rather than suggest one.
On the plus side, the team members who did buy into the analogy are outperforming any expectations and I am prouder than ever to see them flourish without much hand holding…