Dealing with difficult team members in Scrum Team

Wherever you work, you will regularly find people who make your job hard, and you all know the sort of people I am talking about? These are the people who are just either real negative, offensive, or unwilling to take part in team activities. As Scrum Master, you don’t have any formal authority, so it makes things slightly trickier to deal with.

Why deal with difficult people?
You might ask yourself, what is the point of dealing with these people and why not just put up with them.
What you will find is that when you have one individual in the team who as this attitude then he/she will slowly rub off on the others. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel. Research has shown that a team that has a person with difficult personality will bring the whole team down. When this person is removed from the team and before being replaced with someone better, the productivity of the overall team increases by up to 40%. This is while the team is still under-resourced because they don’t have anyone to help out with the work that the difficult member of the team was doing.
Research has also shown that when you have this sort of individuals, the rest of the team start the act the same way. So if you have someone in the team who is negative, then the team slowly begin to act that way and not only to that person but extremely worrying towards each other. This is why it is critical to deal with a difficult member of the team and more especially in the Scrum Team where everyone is required to workly very closes and Collaboratively.
How do you define a Difficult member of staff?
The most destructive personalities for Scrum team are following:
Lazy: these are the people who are not pulling their weight. If you don’t deal with them, rest of the team members will start to think what is the point of me doing the work when this person can get away without doing any work

These are the people who are rude. If you don’t deal with them then slowly everyone in your team will start to become aggressive. The fight and disagreement will become a daily issue within the team.

These are the people who have lost all hope. They will be negative and bring the moral of the whole team down. They will not put any effort to meet the deadline.

Unable to take constructive feedback (ego):
In Scrum team, we regularly inspect and adopt. Every team member needs to take feedback and learn from his/her mistakes as we all make mistakes sometimes. Also, other members of the team will be able to make suggestions on better ways of doing things. We should be able to learn from the feedback rather than taking it as an insult to our pride/ego. Scrum team as no place for anyone with big ego and if this person is NOT removed then, you again find that team will come to stand still with disagreements and arguments

Unwilling to work within the team:
Scrum is all about working as a team. There is no I in the team. Scrum team members have a collective responsibility to deliver the product. There is no place for anyone who can’t work in a team.

Other personality types can be listed here, but then this article would become a book. The main point is, whatever the personality it is. You as a Scrum Master need to help the team deal with it.
How to address this:
Option 1:
Do nothing. Probably the easily at first glance but you are leaving it to become a destructive issue. To me, this is not an option.

option 2: Dealing with it yourself:
Step 1: understand the issue and document it.
step2: Have 121 meeting with the individual. Raise your concerns in a transparent manner and give actual examples. Discuss openly what you would expect from each of those situations from your real examples. Give the member of staff the opportunity to explain them self.
Step3: Agree with the team member what you expect from them and what will happen if they can not change their behaviour.

option 3: guiding your team to deal with it.
Get your team to set some clear ground rules that each person must follow including Scrum Master and the product owner. List all the behaviour that are unacceptable to the team.
Also, list out penalties for breaking them.

If someone breaks the ground rules regularly, then the Scrum team should be empowered to evict the person from the Scrum team.

At various organisations, I have used a mixture of both option 2 and 3.

I wish you best of luck with dealing this issue in your team. Remember that you can always get in touch with me if you would like to discuss this in more detail or want to run your personal ideas by me.


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Scrum Master at University of Westminster

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