Turning Up The Heat (without getting burnt)

Dealing with Problems in Agile teams


“Fred always breaks the build”. “Jim never comes to meetings”. “Jane won’t pair program with anyone”. – “Do something about it!” Anyone faced with the challenge of dealing with these and similar situations will be aware of the difficulty of creating a lasting change in behaviour.

We will present a framework for understanding issues and techniques for solving problems at the level of the team rather than of the individual.


Agile teams are self-organizing groups of highly intelligent individuals. They work together to access this collective intelligence and to create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. In practice, however, teams often struggle to meet this ideal. Working in these groups can be both rewarding and challenging. Groups often develop a life of their own, complete with roles, behaviors and motivations that can help or hinder the group's purpose.

Agile development practices add to the tension by putting developers into the pressure cooker of iterative timeboxes, increasing friction until small problems potentially become explosive, team-crippling events. When individual behavior becomes disruptive, one tends to deal with the individual. The behavior, however, is only disruptive in the context of a particular team’s self-organized behavior. The alternative, therefore, is to deal with the team, and not the individual.

This workshop will look at team dynamics as complex adaptive systems. It will provide tools for team leaders and members to make effective interventions using an iterative process similar to the iterative incremental process of many Agile development methods.

Some topics we will explore will be:

  • The dynamics and consequences of pressure
  • Dealing with cynicism, defensiveness and criticism
  • Rank and Power Struggles
  • Field Dynamics
  • Addressing individuals’ problems by dealing with the team and its context
The theoretical explanations will be accompanied by short practical exercises illustrating alternative behavior patterns and techniques for dealing with these issues. To a certain extent, the workshop will itself be an emergent adaptive process, in order to best address the needs of the participants at the time.

Benefits of participating

  • Understand hidden team dynamics
  • Change conflicts from a destructive force to a creative opportunity
  • Leverage ‘small interventions’ to get big shifts
What will the organisers learn

Feedback on model as an emergent body of work and knowledge

Session Outline

The workshop will be 120 minutes and include a presentation of the model, practice in applying it to specific real life situations and question on its application