Sure, there are poor practices that impact scrum teams, but I tend to focus on the outcomes to determine whether a scrum team is failing or progressing.
Dysfunctional team behaviour
An example of a poor outcome would be a scrum team that has a lead developer who insists on imposing their will on others, fails to listen to others and take their expertise into account, and insists that others do what they are told, when they are told.
I would argue that this isn’t a team, it’s a dictatorship and you aren’t going to get great results out of that team regardless of whether they are doing scrum or not. It doesn’t support experimentation, innovation, or progression at all.
Dysfunctional Product Owner
I once worked with a team where they got roasted by customers and product stakeholders during the sprint review. The customers and stakeholders were irate and wanted to know why the team had built what they had built, in the way they had chosen to build it.
What you would expect in a healthy scrum team is for the product owner to take ownership of that situation, stand before the scrum team and describe what happened, why it happened, and to recalibrate and reconnect with what customers and stakeholders wanted to see.
- Apologise on behalf of the team.
- Ask questions around what customers would like to see in the future?
- Ask questions around what specifically went wrong and why it is disappointing?
- Document the responses to address with the team in the sprint retrospective.
Instead, the product owner in this environment turned on the team and demanded explanations from them as if she were just as irate and confused as the customers and stakeholders.
In essence accusing the developers of being at fault for failing to understand what customers wanted and needed, and that they are responsible for the quality and relevance of the product rather than the product owner.
A dysfunctional product owner will act as if the team failed to interpret their guidance and direction correctly, and pretend as if they have no control over what is produced and when it is delivered.
The antithesis of product ownership.
A product owner can prove dysfunctional in several other ways too, each of which result in poor performances from the team, low morale, and consistent failure to achieve a product goal or vision.
- No trust between product owner, the developers, and customers/stakeholders.
- No respect between product owner, the developers, and customers/stakeholders.
- No commitment to producing valuable, working increments to customers/stakeholders.
- No openness and transparency in the team or customer environment.
What does great look like?
According to Patrick Lencioni, a great team is such a force multiplier for an organization but they are quiet rare.
Yes, we can point to poor behaviours and practices of an underperforming scrum team but it is hard to find and showcase great scrum teams around the world because so few organizations create an environment for them to thrive.
Sure, in professional sports we see great teams in action all of the time and can point to their high-performance and high-achievement as a great example of teamwork in action, but in the corporate world, there are few organizations that invest heavily in developing great teams.
It is really hard to grow a high-performance team because most organizations set teams up for failure. Agile, as an ideology, was developed for this very reason.
Traditional management and project management does not breed high-performance teams, nor does it provide room for flexibility, growth, experimentation, and development of a team for them to become a high-performing team.
So, the challenge isn’t so much pointing out what a poor scrum team looks like, it’s more about identifying all the barriers and constraints that exist in the client environment that would prevent a group of people forming a high-performing team.
An example of organizational dysfunction.
Microsoft, under Steve Balmer, had to stack rank each of their reports within a team or department.
Based on those assessments, the bottom 10% of each team were removed from the team at the end of each year in accordance with the organizational policy that had been created.
If this happened to an individual three times in a row, they were fired.
Just this simple policy meant that there were no incentives for people to work together, as a team, because regardless of how great the team performed, if you found yourself at the bottom 10%, you were out.
The incentive for office politics, backstabbing, and so forth was far higher.
Trip someone up and watch them fall to protect your own career.
There is no way that a team can thrive or grow and develop into a high-performing team over a couple of years because the organizational policies created and nurtured dysfunctional behaviours.
Great teams build great products that delight customers, and so the incentive to build environments where great teams can thrive exists is high. As a scrum master, agile coach, or agile consultant, it is important that you focus on all elements of team development rather than focusing exclusively on how well the team are executing scrum events.
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