Where'd Jeff Probst go? (aka, Kicking someone off the island)

Yesterday I spent the better part of my morning reading through the 130 or so messages in the Scrum Dev Yahoo group's "Rotten Apple In Scrum Team" discussion, then I posted this "newsy" summary of the discussion on InfoQ.

In a nutshell, Marko told the group of a guy on his team he sees as a drastic "under-performer", or as he put it originally a "rotten apple", and asked for advice as to what to do with him. Read the InfoQ post to get a deeper sense for how people responded, but the gist of most of the advice was for Marko to take an open-minded and objective stab at finding out (and/or helping the team find out) what's really driving this person's performance, or, rather, lack thereof. And then to help him out.

"Try 'Beginners Mind'"..."take queue from Linda Rising"..."pair up with the guy"..."be nice, be helpful, be supportive"...and so on and so on. Hear this clearly (before I get to my real point of this post): I generally agree wholeheartedly with all the advice presented.

Now though, all that Dr. Jeckyll buildup for the Mr. Hyde thought: 130+ replies and not one mention of "kicking someone off the island"?

[...and the crowd gasps in horror...]

I've seen, and I'm sure you have too, a team who had an individual who truly did bring the team down. Typically not because they couldn't program quite as fast, or weren't quite as smart, or weren't quite as good in front of customers, or anything skill/experience/productivity-related like that. Rather, simply because they had a negative attitude, because they didn't play nicely or just plain didn't care.

[*Note: For what's worth, I do not think this applies to Marko's guy, but the discussion got me thinking anyway.]

One seriously under appreciated technique that I stress should be considered for these true "rotten apples" is to get them off your team, kick 'em off the damn island. No one says you have to fire them, just get them out of the way somehow.

Forget tools, intelligence, certifications, experience for a moment. The degree with which having a good team (in the "synergy" sense that is) contributes to good results (and, hell, a good time) is amazing; having a great team, well that's just indescribably astounding, magical even. Conversely, the degree with which having a bad team atmosphere can lead to serious bed-shatting, well, that's also quite amazing as well.

So if you've got someone who after the Prime Directive and the Beginner's Mind and the Pairing has still got that sour-puss face and, more importantly, is still killing your team's ju-ju, then by all means call the spade a spade, cut your losses, and remove them. Be as graceful as you like, but please, as Bo used to say, just do it.

Again I stress, I'm about as "glass half full" as they come - I'm not trying to encourage a general exclusive, head-chopping, "only the best" attitude. 95 times out of 100 your man intends the best and just needs a little love, and by all means you outta be doing your damnedest to facilitate that happening. My point is that for those other 5, stop being so P.C. and get the bad apple out of your basket. Your team's ju-ju will thank you for it.

** Update: Thanks to Esther Derby for shouting out about her related and more concretely useful post from some time ago echoing the same sentiment.

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