Kill the ego to save the agile team

Jaime Yáñez
4 min readJan 31, 2022
Photo by Mariel Reiser

Today, many agile teams lose focus and value delivery when the interests of some override those of all. It’s common to see critical roles in self-centered positions bent on pushing their agenda as if they were the only team member present. What happens when a team’s member ego is greater than the team objectives?

It may sound cliché to talk about that; But in my experience, it has been a common theme in many teams in all types of organizations. This type of behavior can be challenging to identify at first, but we need to understand, as a team, that an unhealthy ego should not be tolerated. The good news is that removing ego from the scene can lead to smoother teamwork, better communication, and more effective collaboration.

Ego and Agile Teams

It’s essential to recognize that everyone has an ego. It’s a normal part of human psychology to have a sense of self-awareness and confidence. The problem comes when egos transcend neutrality, inclusion, and empathy as people begin to believe that their interests are more important than those of the team. The result? Lack of collaboration and inability to achieve team goals. The ego manifests itself in various ways, from mild (and relatively healthy) self-aggrandizement to overt actions that harm the team and the product.

The most common form of ego that I see in agile teams is that of the team member who is very capable and experienced in their field but unable and incompetent to work as a team, as they are too focused on their interests and personal growth. This person has no conscience, lacks empathy for others, and may not be aware of their actions’ impact. This person can be any team member, a Product Owner, or even you as an Agile Coach. This person is usually intelligent, eloquent, and persuasive. Is comfortable with being the center of attention and, obviously, not listening to the team.

I have seen the negative impact of an overly self-centered person in many agile teams. These people create conflicts that lead to frustration, anger, and unnecessary team drama. Their influence can also cause people to focus on themselves rather than the greater good of the team or organization. Be careful with egocentric behaviors in your teams; they can negatively affect team dynamics to death.

Does it work for us to be team players?

Since I’ve started my journey as an Agile Coach in 2010, I’ve seen many teams that don’t seem to work together, but they called themselves “Agile teams”. It is common to see critical roles in egocentric positions. For example, one person does all the design, even though there are multiple designers on board; o One person is responsible for writing all technical documentation, although several people could easily share this role; o one person is in charge of all the tests, even if there are several testers on board; the list can go on and on if you think about it. A good agile team should function as a group of people with clear and shared goals ​​in mind at all times. The interests of the group must outweigh those of any individual member. Egocentrism, called the “dark side of collaboration,” is rampant in today’s agile environments. It’s easy for us to lose focus when our own needs prioritize those of the team; it is even easier for some to think that their needs are above those of others.

Egos can get in the way of creating teams that produce excellent results. A team full of selfish members can destroy the team’s purpose, and adherence to any goal is challenging to gain.

How to kill the ego to save the team?

There is no unique technique or method that works for us all, but one thing is plain and simple: As an Agile Coach, you need to help the team commit to doing what makes business or team sense; and take responsibility for getting the results that matter. One way to do that is to have the mindset of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. It is both an ability and an emotional state that motivates you to care about others. Empathy keeps you focused on what matters most, which is the success of the team.

Also, as an Agile Coach, you help to be aware of being distant of selfishness, even if the team members o critical roles do not consider themselves self-centered. Value orders us, and purpose unites us.

Then?

You have to have tact and the ability of sensitivity to listen to what others say. There is a constant challenge to get the job done or deliver value and avoid blaming or being defensive when our ego is triggered. We need to listen with empathy to understand that the team purpose or outputs/outcomes are above personal agendas.

Agile is about teams improving everything.

Teams.

Not individuals.

Repeat.

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