Episode #139 – Rapid Team Growth

Featured speakers:

Clayton Lengel-Zigich Clayton Derek Neighbors Derek Jade Meskill Jade Roy van de Water Roy

Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, Clayton Lengel-Zigich, and Roy van de Water discuss:

  • How to deal with a rapidly expanding team.


Clayton Lengel‑Zigich:  Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I am Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Jade Meskill:  I’m Jade Meskill.

Roy van de Water:  I’m Roy van de Water.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Clayton:  Today, we’re going to talk about what are some impacts and how do you handle or how do you deal with taking the team and growing it, doubling in size, or onboarding a bunch of new people.

Jade:  All at once?

Clayton:  Yeah, exactly. Not over time, but like, “Hey, there might be some people joining the team soon” and then, “Hey, these are the people that are joining the team now,” that kind of thing.

We probably talked in the past about what happens to teams when members change. Is anything exaggerated or are there worse problems when you have higher numbers?

Roy:  Every time, we’re doubling the size of the team overnight?

Clayton:  Yeah, basically.

Roy:  Because I feel like that’s where the biggest problems comes. When you have one team that’s about the same size of the first team, now they’re one team. Because now you have two worrying cultures or as if like let’s say the four of us are a team and the fifth person comes in. The four of us can dominate the other person’s culture just through sheer force of numbers. That’s going to make it a lot harder because now all of a sudden there’s a clear majority.

Jade:  But even changing one member of the team, you start over as a team like you’ve got to figure things out. Things are different.

Roy:  Absolutely, but it might not take us long. It might go a lot faster.

Clayton:  What if we got put in a team?

Jade:  [laughs] Please, I feel bad for those people.

Clayton:  And from people we can talk to about then.

Jade:  I think some of the risks are like we’re saying you have two very different cultures colliding and you’ve got to sort through all that. You’re definitely starting over and both teams are starting over from a culture perspective.

Roy:  The danger to have is the assumption that one of the teams is getting bigger. When in reality, two teams are stopping to be teams and a new team that is completely its own unique thing is now starting.

Derek:  A lot of it too is, I mean if we look at…Trust is a big part of things being successful. That is a huge part of it. If we say that the only way to have trust is to be vulnerable and we know that when you’re with strangers, it’s hard to be vulnerable. Some of that stuff just takes time. It’s like you have to kind of posture up, sniff each other out like two dogs at the dog park. You got to do little butt sniffing. You got to check it out…

Jade:  Maybe 14 dogs at the dog park.

Derek:  …go around and there’s a fair amount of crazy sauce that happens before you can even settle in to then, “OK, I’m going to let the guard down slowly.” It only takes one offense to then well back up and put those hands back in front of your face, and say, “Oop.”

Jade:  And for everybody.

Derek:  And it’s for everybody. There’s a song and dance that takes a while to get that trust mojo going. I’d say my only recommendation is whatever you can do to get that trust mojo happening as soon as possible and as quick as possible and reinforce it as much as possible, the better your results are going to be. But that’s hard to do, man.

Jade:  What are some tricks to start that off well?

Derek:  Valium, I don’t know.


Roy:  The opposite of valium is don’t shy away from conflicts. Meet that shit head on. Don’t try to put off discussions for…don’t try to put it off forever.

Clayton:  The first thing that comes to mind for me is eating together, sharing a meal. That’s a pretty good one. Getting to know people beyond their work role, their persona. When you’re in the bureaucracy, you want to talk about, “Oh, where’d you come from? Who’d you used to work for? Who do you report to”? All that kind of stuff.

But when you’re eating dinner and someone mentions something about having kids, “Oh, you have kids? Oh, you’re married? How long have you been married? Who all here is married”?

Roy:  That’s when people become human beings.

Clayton:  Right, it’s like now I’m talking to you as a person, rather than someone in the [inaudible 04:15] .

Jade:  That’s a very important point, Roy, is becoming human beings as fast as possible.

Derek:  I’d say human beings like things that are similar to them, so that’s a big part of the “Do you have kids”? Going beyond the weather questions, getting to know somebody ‑‑ the quicker that you can crack that shell and find out what your commonalities are, the easier it is to become vulnerable.

Whatever that is. Maybe it’s you ride motorcycles. Maybe it’s that you own a bulldog. Maybe it’s that you like music. Maybe it’s that you are the same denomination of religion. Whatever that common ground is, the faster that you can discover that with everybody on the team, the easier anchor point you have to say, “That person is like me. Therefore they’re human like me. Therefore I can connect with them.” If you can get to that quick, that helps.

Jade:  Imagine that you’ve broken through that part of it. We’ve become humans to each other. What’s next?

Clayton:  I think some of that goes back to what Roy mentioned of the warring cultures. Everyone’s got their own maybe practices or things that they’re used to or cultural norms, really. Some of those things are pretty easy to merge. They’re not too different.

Some of them, it feels like you have to make…feels like people get really…Machiavellian’ words like, “I am going to make a peace offering and let you keep this thing that I think is trivial because, I am expecting you are going to cave on these other things and give them up.”

Roy:  Social manipulation?

Clayton:  Yeah. I don’t think it’s intentional that way but it seems like it shakes out that way, from a cultural perspective.

Roy:  It’s like new team information should not be a contract negotiation.

Derek:  It’s interesting, I think of it as similar to a marriage.

Roy:  Which is a contract negotiation.


Derek:  Can be, especially in our present age. You have two people come together but in reality, you tend to have two extended families come together. With that, you have the culture of those families, you have the…not necessarily the practices, but some of the values, some of the traditions, maybe tradition is a better word than practices.

I see a ton of people getting married, one of the biggest fights are, “Oh crap! Now we have to figure out Christmas and Thanksgiving.” It’s really easy if my family celebrates on Christmas Eve and yours is on Christmas Day. [hoots] We dodged that bullet, no big deal. We are all happy. But what happens when the tradition for both of us is Christmas Day?

One of the things I see in families that do things well, is they figure out how to preserve the traditions that are the most important where people can do the best, to preserve what they need to out of that.

The other thing is they create new traditions together, that are separate from either one of their extended families’ traditions. Teams have to do the same thing where they are going to be certain practices and certain things that are just too emotional to let go of, and finding, how do I give you enough of your practices, so you don’t feel like you are losing everything.

I have enough of my practices so I don’t feel like I am losing everything, and how do we create some new practices together? Where we can own those together and we are setting those new practices as a team we collectively built. It wasn’t through negotiation, it was truly, how do we make a new practice better than neither one of us has ever seen?

Clayton:  What if one of the practices or traditions is completely egregious to the other team?

Roy:  File for divorce.

Clayton:  My wife’s family, they get together every Easter and sacrifice a goat in a pentagon. Or code example, the other team wants you to quit.


Clayton:  How do you reconcile those things?

Jade:  You sacrifice those people.


Clayton:  You have to fight about that, right?

Derek:  Well, some of those are ones where you might have to do the new tradition. I want Dart, you want Godel, whatever the case would be.

Jade:  Good God! We’ll have Christma‑Kwanzaa.

Derek:  You want .NET, I want COBOL, so, we are going to have to learn Ruby together because that’s the only…

Roy:  If I can’t get my way, then you can’t get your way, then dammit, neither one of us going to get our way. We are going to discover a new way to get…


Derek:  There are things where you don’t want to compromise just for the sake of compromise or everybody walks away pissed off. If I just compromised and say, “Fine, we’ll use .NET.” I am just going to always be bitter and angry, and pissed off that we did that…

Roy:  Yeah. You used .NET.


Clayton:  Well, the option was COBOL.


Derek:  The point being is, sometimes you are going to have to let go, if nothing else to say like, “I am vulnerable to have to do something totally new and you are vulnerable to have to do something totally new, and we are going o have to discover that together, and go through all of that pain together. And as a part of that, we are going to come out way more unified about that thing than trying to coerce you to do the thing that I wanted to do.”

Jade:  I think there’s an important step that needs to happen before that, that will make that journey a lot easier is understanding what everybody’s hopes and desires are, for being together. We are creating this new family, what do we want out of this? It eases the burden of negotiating some of those practices.

Clayton:  In the team example, take you are in a corporation and you get reorged, now you have this team of 5 people, and now it’s 10 people because this is a reorg. Those people probably don’t have any hopes and dreams being on that team, other than, “I am glad I didn’t get fired.” How do you solve that problem? Or how would you have that conversation when it may be not voluntary.

Roy:  Even when the team formation is not voluntary, it doesn’t take away from the fact that every single human being has hopes and dreams about their life in general. And those are the ones that are valuable because those are the basis for which every single decision they make comes into play.

And it becomes a lot of easier to understand why, even if I don’t agree with it Derek might want to use .NET if I understand what he hoping to obtain from that.

Derek:  I want to use Cobol.


Roy:  I’m sorry, but you understand what I am saying. But if I know the why he’s making that decision it makes it a lot easier to understand and it helps make it a lot easier to find a solution that might would work for the both of us.

Clayton:  So, there is some empathy aspect to it?

Roy:  Yes.

Jade:  We’ve become human. We understand our hopes and dreams. We’ve figured out the non‑negotiables. We’ve created new traditions, et cetera, et cetera.

Roy:  It’s time to start getting to work.

Jade:  Now you’ve got to get something done. So now what?

Roy:  Start working. Just do it. Jump right in.

Jade:  What does that look like?

Clayton:  Does it ever look a certain way? I mean isn’t that…

Jade:  There is a huge temptation to put that off as long as possible.

Roy:  Or to go back to your old teams and work in two siloed groups.

Derek:  There is something to be said just for having to deal with that stuff and then to reflect on it. Those are the two important things. You just have to step forward. Going back to marriage example I am so nervous about going to your family’s house on New Year’s Eve and whatever that tradition is.

But the longer that I put it off and the more I mop about it and the more I freak out about it. That doesn’t help me. Just going and then recapping. And then either going, “That really wasn’t that bad. I really ended up and your brother was really cool and we hung out and like that was really cool and I can’t wait to go back next year.”

Or maybe, “Oh my God, that was so miserable. Your sister hates my guts. Let’s figure out how do we deal with this going forward.” But like the only way you are going to know that is to do it and I think that the other thing just do the things you need to do together as a team so that you can figure them out and make them better for the next time.

Jade:  So making it real as soon as possible…

Derek:  Make it real as soon as possible

Jade:  …and fully engaging.

Derek:  Yep. Rip the Band‑Aid off. [laughs]

Clayton:  I guess at that point are you in the storming, forming, norming. You going to be in that pattern?

Roy:  Yeah, you are going to be in storming.

Jade:  You’re still really in forming. Right?

Roy:  That’s true, but I mean…

Jade:  There’s still a lot of politeness at this point.

Roy:  When you start working together is when the storming is going to start happening because that’s when like first you were negotiated but now that shit becomes real.

Jade:  Does it happen right away?

Roy:  Probably not. I don’t think that all of those decisions are going to surface and it’s probably going to have to. All the little things are going to have to build up to a point where it exceeds a threshold and then all of a sudden somebody is going to explode.

Clayton:  Or say there is some contentious issue. We were able to get by pretending like everything was fine but now there is this actual fork in the road that we have to deal with.

Roy:  Like a single big issue that all of a sudden becomes the thing?

Clayton:  Right. That’s maybe were people would want to go back to bad behaviors or go back to their “old team,” whatever that kind of thing.

Jade:  You’re not going to see those kind of things right away. Everyone is on their best behavior usually at this point

Roy:  I don’t even know what the time line for that is going to be.

Jade:  It’s like you said there is going to be a bunch of little things that build up until somebody losses it.

Clayton:  And it depends on how much of the actual real work you are doing. The more real work you can actually do the probably faster it would happen.

Roy:  That makes sense.

Clayton:  But the more time you spend kind of dancing around that or taking it easy.

Derek:  I also think sometimes you just have to wait for the right event to happen going back to the marriage example. Thanksgiving was great. Both of our traditions didn’t conflict and Christmas was great they didn’t conflict and then we get to Easter and there is a massive conflict on this. Fireworks are going to happen because…

Roy:  It almost makes it worse because you were so complacent the last two holidays, why can’t you just give in on this one.

Derek:  You fall into the illusion of the last holidays all worked fine what’s wrong with us now that all of a sudden we have this problem. And so teams can fall into that same thing where they feel like they’ve maybe are more into the norming stage just because they feel like they haven’t encountered…

Jade:  Because they are actually in the forming.

Derek:  …they haven’t encountered real conflict together. Like, “Hey, we all got together and we agreed all on the same language,” and “Hey, we got together and we agreed on 95 percent of the practice,” and it’s not like until that first thing there is a violent disagreement on until that it’s like whoa shit we haven’t learned how to deal with conflict together. And now we’re going to have to do that.

Roy:  …and we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.


Jade:  What about the expectations? Especially, external expectations of this team. Like if you are managing this team or are responsible for their output in some way do you say like, “It’s going to be rough for them for a while so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much”?

Roy:  No, I think you should expect more because that is what makes it happen quicker. Like get that shit over with.

Derek:  I think that if you are true to yourself you should not expect nearly as much from them. The problem is, in reality, most people completely minimize the amount of pain that is introduced by doing that.

I am not saying don’t expect anything from them. And I am not saying that lower your expectations to them. But you have to be real to yourself that even if you tell them that hey I am still expecting a lot out of you to help motivate them to move through that conflict.

Roy:  That’s the big difference. Don’t tell them that you’ve lowered your expectations but realistically lower your expectations.

Jade:  Don’t abuse them when they don’t hit your expectations.

Roy:  What we’re saying is lie to the team about your expectations.

Derek:  I don’t think it’s lying. You could say, “I know this is really hard stuff, but I am not going to just give you a free pass for this,” and then if they sit there and do nothing and don’t actually try to form and they don’t try to do that you should beat them with a stick and say, “This is crap. You’re not even trying,” but if they are trying really hard and are dealing with conflict. There is all sort of problems you shouldn’t beat them because they’re trying to do the right thing.

You should do it accordingly. You shouldn’t beat anyone anyways. Your accountability should match the results they’re attempting to get.

Clayton:  All right. That is all the time we have so thanks for listening.


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