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Voting Someone Off the Island on an Agile Team

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Agile teams are known to be self organizing and full of energy. They show a high degree of camaraderie which results in high productivity and efficiency. However, at times there might be someone on the Agile team who does not fit well with the team and pulls down the velocity of the entire team. Various members in the Agile community discuss the scenario of “Voting Someone Off the Island”.

Joshua Hoover suggested, in his blog, that the concept of voting someone off the island should be burned into the memory of every Agile team member. He added, since the Agile teams are self managing, they have full right to vote out someone that they feel is not a good fit. The only thing to be kept in mind is that the same rule applies for everyone, hence the decision needs to be taken diligently. According to Joshua,

The point is that self-managed team members have the power to say who is and isn’t on their team. It’s healthy for teams to get an unproductive member off the team after working with that person to address his or her problem(s). If improvements aren’t being made then it’s likely time to consider voting that team member off the island…errr…team.

In a reply to the above post Richard Baldwin added, if a team member is bringing greater tax than value then it does not make sense to pay the tax. According to him, on many Agile teams team members remain silent about a non performing team member rather than professionally resolving the issue. This leads to difficult situations and a dip in team productivity.

In a similar discussion on the Scrum Development group, Brent Barton suggested

We used to use “voting off the island.”  This was not a hire/fire event because sometimes it is a team “fit” issue.  Some members have had great results on other teams.  Too many of these events leads to separations for obvious reasons.

According to Brent it is important to use the concept of voting out in the right way. Some teams get to this without giving a thought to balanced conversation and conflict resolution skills which are also important. On other teams this concept is de-emphasized to the limit that they do not feel empowered.

In the same discussion, James S. Fosdick added, if a person is voted off one team he should be deployed onto another one to see the chemistry there. This would take care of the condition that the person might be a misfit on a particular team. However, at the end of the day if the team is not interested in working with a particular team member then, voting off is fundamental to the principle of self organization and should be respected.

In a similar view on Implementing Scrum, Michael Vizdos shared his view on the reason and the way to vote a team member off the island. He mentioned,

Either this person sucks at their job, has no interest in being on the team, or really is just the type of person who will bitch and complain about anything and likes being heard. A team can be a powerful [good] force. Usually with some one-on-one coaching with this person, and the team — through daily stand-ups, working through user stories or tasks, or other techniques — the person usually can find some other place within the organization where they can make a difference.

Michael tried to look at it from another angle too when he talks about the concept of Self Selection. The principle talks about the ability of an individual to have the maturity to conclude that Agile is not for him. According to Micheal, if a person believes that he cannot work on the team then, instead of moving him away from the team right away he asks the team member to commit to stay on the team till the end of the iteration. This helps in not disrupting the sprint and at the same time the coach can work one-on-one with the person to solve any issues and observe if the person can work in the given environment.

Members of the Agile community agree that voting someone off the island is fundamental to the principle of self organization. The decision need to be taken diligently and teams may want to try out different options but at the end the decision of the team needs to be respected.

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