Moving Team Members from Being Controlled to Taking Initiative

I spoke recently with a (new) Scrum Master with a team who’s new to Scrum. One of the team members is a little stuck. He doesn’t feel comfortable going to the task board to take a task when he’s done. He wants to wait until someone else is ready and then work with that person.

Part of this is ok–the working with someone part. But my colleague asked, “How do I get him to take initiative?”

You don’t. You can make it easy for someone to take initiative. You can make it a team norm. But you can’t make someone take initiative.

I know something about this organization. For years, the managers have estimated everything. The managers doled out tasks. The managers told everyone how to do whatever needed to be done. The managers made all the decisions.

This guy started at the company right out of school, has been there for almost 4 years. Why would he change his habits of 4 years in one iteration? How can he trust the management to not return to their old behavior and tell him he’s working wrong and they will tell him how to work right?

This fellow needs to see that management will allow the team to work the way they need to, without management interference. I don’t think he needs 4 years of seeing it, but he needs more than one iteration. He especially needs to see what happens when the team doesn’t meet a commitment during an iteration.

If someone is afraid of committing, or of taking work, or of anything else that smacks of self-management, take a look at the recent history. Does that person have a reason to be concerned? If so, address the issue at a retrospective. Don’t expect people will change just because you want them to.

Management who are attempting to move from command-and-control to encouraging a team to be self-managing need to extend trust first. Even if the team has shown no reason to be trustworthy–yet. Management needs to make it easy for people to succeed at new behaviors.

And if you’ve hired people with little initiative (hard to believe, but possible), explain what you need, ask for results, and back off for a while. Let people learn how to take initiative. There’s a reason it’s called “take initiative “and not “give initiative.”

3 Replies to “Moving Team Members from Being Controlled to Taking Initiative”

  1. Johanna,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. I enjoy reading it and I was especially interested in this post.

    The idea of enabling team members to get things done rather than simply giving them orders is a powerful one.

Leave a Reply