The characters in your Agile offshore team
Are you a Politician, a Value Addition or The Creepy Quiet Member? Agile coach Jay Rao has noticed six recurring roles.
Does your organization
have an offshore Agile team? Do you find they behave the same as
your colleagues around you?
Teams, not individuals, drive performance and delivery for any
project. No single person can match the power of the team combined.
But managing teams, especially from afar, with their complex
interplay during collaboration for various agile processes can be a
Agile teams do not have a project manager, but instead a
ScrumMaster who serves the purpose of guiding the teams towards
making important decisions (the “empowered team”
concept)ScrumMaster and serves as the champion of the process. When
the team makes a decision, it “owns” the decision – and feels
responsible to deal with the fallout of the decision and any
unanticipated consequences as well.
In my experience of working with Indian offshore (and
non-offshore) teams, I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior emerging.
Here, I have tried to showcase some typical patterns by building
characters that you can expect to have on your teams, and how to
you can deal with them.
The Leader- the person you tend to
hear on the audio bridge. You may have 10 other offshore team
members on the team, but the Leader one is the one you hear the
most. He/she will likely ask for opinions from their team, but more
often than not ignore the suggestions that come up and with no
meaningful reason or data tend to reject the idea from being
This seems to happen when the ScrumMaster and the
manager in your organization (or your vendor’s org) are the same
person. Thanks to their position in the organizational structure,
or by simply being senior, this person will likely ensure that the
morale of the team goes downhill, eventually leading to a cynical
The Politician – the person who may
or may not have contributed, but makes it sounds like they made it
all happen when you listen to him in the retrospective. The
Politician’s focus on grabbing credit overrides all other
considerations. As long as this person gives credit evenly across
all the contributors, it may give a positive impact. However,
normally they just want everything for themselves.
To neutralize the effect, the ScrumMaster must work
across the team, possibly even calling out to individuals to speak
up about how they feel about the incident mentioned and how it
impacted them. This quantification of credit brings up
contributions across the team and can give a more collaborative
nature to the retrospective.
The Echo Effect – this person comes
from the school of “the customer is always right”. Getting him/her
to be objective or disagree or even discuss an issue can be a
challenge. They simply agree with everyone. Sometimes, they agree
with people who hold opposite views on the same subject.
To gain effective participation, ask them for the
thought process behind their line of argument, or data to support
it. If they cannot provide this, they might step back from the
conversation and allow others to present viewpoints – and in this
case, it may be the best possible option.
The Value Addition – This person is
the “SME” or “expert” – someone who is not hands-on (and therefore
a “chicken” in Agile parlance) – and gives their opinion about
everything. By virtue of being an expert, their opinion tends to
add bias – but if the contributor is truly an expert, they should
be able to base this on experience and data.
The team should consider such suggestions for backlog
grooming, and willing to run Proof of Concepts before the sprints
start. If it works out, it can be used. If not, discarding it is
The Creepy Quiet Member – this type will be
quiet – so quiet – that you will possibly hear a mumbled hello at
the start of a call – and a thank you before the hangup beep.
He/she will make you wonder if they are actually on the call in
first place. In fact, you may end up wondering whether by
acknowledging them, you may be talking to a black hole. While they
may be amazing listeners, getting them to participate in the
discussion can also add a lot of value.
Try and understand why the person is so quiet in first
place. It may be that someone jumped on them the last time they
said anything in a forum of this type. Or maybe their suggestions
were adopted and went badly wrong. Or maybe they prefer to not have
an opinion, or just like to follow orders (not a good fit for
agile!). Maybe have a one-to-one call with them to help them
discard this behavior and be more participative. Call them out and
acknowledge their contributions. Everyone likes to recieve
The Scared Team Member – hierarchy
within offshore teams runs deep – culturally, much deeper compared
to the USA. Teams at offshore operations do not tend to challenge
their managers. Rather than try to break this phenomenon, it may be
easier and more productive to pull the manager out of the
Getting participation from offshore teams (not just
the leads) – is imperative in an Agile delivery model. The sooner
people and collaboration issues are sorted out, the faster the team
will be happier – and more productive they’ll be.
What experiences have you had with your
offshore team? Do you recognise any of these characters
from your own work? Let me know in the comments!
Jayathirtha Rao has worked
in a variety roles as pre-sales consultant, project manager,
ScrumMaster, program manager and delivery manager in a career
spanning 14 years.