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How do I deal with negative Agile team members?

Here are ways to deal with Agile team members who are negative or resistant to change.

Change and software development go hand-in-hand. And with any change, large or small, there are people who disagree. But disagreeing about changes is not necessarily being difficult or negative; it's participating in the discussion to improve the software development team. However, a fine line exists between active participation and being resistant to change. The key is identifying the motivation behind the behavior.

In Agile teams, change occurs regularly and is most effective when reviewed, discussed and hashed out with a goal of reaching a compromise. Everyone's opinion is heard and the result is a consensus. The key to garnering a successful change when negative or resistant behaviors occur is to figure out why there is resistance. You need to identify the behavior and negotiate a balanced, logical collaborative response.

The first step when faced with resistant, negative Agile team members is to attempt to understand their position. What is it they are having trouble with? Do they have a valid reason or are they simply resisting for the sake of resisting? Next, review your own actions with others and make sure it's not you who is being difficult or disagreeable.

Not you? Then try to determine if the person being negative is going through a personal or professional crisis. Are they overloaded and see the change only as more work, or the same work in a different form, or worse -- duplicated work when time is already tight. Determine if this behavior is unusual for the person or a repetitive pattern. If it's new, then it's highly likely something else is going on that is sapping their strength and ability to adapt. Or is it a common occurrence, where aggressively difficult Agile team members are acting like childhood bullies in the schoolyard? Or, perhaps the person is a procrastinator, negative about everything, or manipulative and self-serving. 

The problem with difficult Agile team members is they create havoc and destroy morale. How you deal with them may involve discussions with management, human resources and the individual.  It's important not to be drawn into negativity or aggression and remain calm, steady and assertive. De-escalate behavioral situations, if possible. If you're a manager, refrain from challenging the difficult person directly and meet in private to determine the reason or source of the behavior. 

Often, there are paths to rebuilding a working relationship, but that is not always the case. Sometimes parting ways is the best solution for the company and the individual.

Next Steps

Managing unpopular change

Rehab or reject problem employees

Dig Deeper on Agile culture and collaboration

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