What to Do When Your Scrum Team Has a Toxic Member

By Zach Chapman - September 27, 2019

What to Do When Your Scrum Team Has a Toxic Member
September 27, 2019 By Zach Chapman

What to Do When Your Scrum Team Has a Toxic Member

A Scrum team goes through a series of stages as they form, mature, and begin to produce results from one Sprint to the next. What do you do when you have a toxic member on the team? A Scrum team is only as strong as its weakest link. If one of the team members is not pulling their weight, or has an attitude that is pulling down the rest of the team, it can be truly detrimental to the team’s output. Dealing with this quickly is pivotal.

4 Types of Toxic Team Members

Scrum teams are typically small, with anywhere from 3 to 7 people (usually closer to 5). However, all it takes is one bad apple to spoil the rest of the bunch. A toxic team member can bring down the entire Development Team, hindering the ability of the team to progress from one project to the next. They are generally very argumentative and they tend to be the ones putting a negative spin on things. Here are the 4 types of toxic team members you might have on your team:

  1. Pessimistic - The person who can never seem to be positive about anything. Their negativity is contagious and they give minimal effort to projects they’re not interested in.

  2. Lazy - The person who isn’t pulling their own weight. They show up late, can’t meet deadlines and this attitude eventually starts to rub off on everyone else.

  3. Selfish - The person who refuses to work within the Scrum team. Their ego makes it difficult to accept constructive feedback or criticism.

  4. Offensive - This person makes it clear they don’t want to be at work by being rude to everyone around them. They are openly hostile, arguing with anything and anyone, whether passive-aggressively or aggressively.

How to Deal with the Toxic Team Member: Option 1

what to do when your scrum team has a toxic member

You need to take care of the toxic member of the Development Team as soon as possible. There are a couple of different approaches you can take as the Scrum Master. The first option is to deal with it yourself. This involves understanding what the issue is in the first place by speaking with the person one-on-one. It could be that the toxic team member doesn't even realize the struggles he or she is causing the rest of the Development Team.

Talk with them openly about your expectations of them, the team and yourself. Give them the chance to explain their side of the story. Outline the consequences of not changing their behavior and make sure you both are on the same page. Once they are made aware of the problem and the discussion has been had, give them one or two Sprints to try and correct their behavior. Hopefully, he or she will be able to fix what is plaguing their attitude and performance.

How to Deal with the Toxic Team Member: Option 2

Option number 2 requires the cooperation of the entire Scrum team. First, ask them what they think of the toxic member’s behavior. This can be done in the presence of the toxic team member (almost like an intervention). Having the toxic team member present will make it more clear what effect their behavior has on the rest of the team. If it is disrupting team productivity and effectiveness then it might be time to review your expectations.

Lay down some ground rules and consequences for breaking them by reviewing your office Code of Conduct (if you have one). Consequences could include verbal warnings, write-ups, suspensions and eventually termination. Also, consider training (or re-training) the entire Scrum team on how to handle toxic team members and manage interpersonal conflicts within the office.

In the event the toxic team member cannot course correct, it may be time to speak directly with their manager or supervisor to have them placed on a different Development Team, or removed them altogether. Some teams will just not gel for one reason or another and the toxic team member may perform better on a different crew (or with no crew at all).

Improve Your Team's Collaboration

A toxic team member can be detrimental to the Development Team. It's the Scrum Master's job to be aware of this and take any necessary actions to resolve problems as they arise. At ClearlyAgile, we offer a variety of Agile training classes to help your team with collaboration on all types of development projects.