“I have got this colleague… he just won’t do it!” Every now and then I hear people state that someone in their team simply refuses to be part of the team’s transformation into the agile way of working. When listening to such statements, I usually think: really? Are you really, 100% sure this person doesn’t want to play along at all? Have you actually asked him or her? And with asking, I mean: have you engaged yourself into a real conversation with this person about this presumption of yours? Because I am sure there could be many valid reasons countering your observation.

When I became a mother for the first time, I had to get used to the fact that I couldn’t simply ask my son what was the matter when he cried. What on earth could he want this time? Soon I absorbed all possible causes for such distress and began to mentally check them when my son was crying. Check diaper, is he hungry, sleepy, ill, in pain? Did he loose a toy, was he lonely? Often the checklist led to nowhere and I ended up feeding him, even if he had already had some a short while ago. It worked like a charm 9 out of 10. And somehow he grew into a healthy, happy boy.

Resistance is futile

So, you might wonder, am I suggesting you should offer comfort food to all those in distress on the work floor? Not necessarily, even though I definitely root for a new Ben & Jerry’s flavour Resistance is futile. What I really want to say is: it might be that something else is the matter than a simple ‘won’t do it, period’. And the fortunate thing is, opposed as with a baby, you can ask your team member! Just to get you started on resetting your possible bias, a few examples – there are of course more – of what actually might be the case when you are dealing with a presumably ‘unwilling person’ in your team.

The untouchable team member

Emotional driver: insecurity, fear, anger

Some people have been in the wrong place for a long time, with managers silently condoning that situation for whatever reason. To some extent these people became ‘the untouchables’, biding their time. With agility comes the notion of bringing value and suddenly it may become awfully clear that this ‘untouchable’ team member has very little to contribute. Obviously this causes much distress for all parties involved.

One way or the other, either the team member steps up to the plate with help from the team and/or others. Or it is finally time to discuss other options… it might even be a great relief for the person involved; a new beginning instead of a dead end.

The wait-and-see team member

Emotional driver: scepticism

Some people have had disappointing experiences in the past with reorganisations. They question if it really is going to work this time.

With agility comes transparency, experimenting, inspection & adaption, responsibility, initiative and focus on value. You can require all that from your team (and you should!), but a company should remember where it is coming from; the original company culture. If you have been commanding & controlling your employees thus far, don’t expect them to roll over and show different behaviour all of a sudden. Show, don’t tell the expected behaviour! Give them time to adjust and to experience that the agile way of working is for real, through all layers of the company. And make sure they stay involved in the meantime; create a platform where people can open up and are appreciated for it.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull – and uninformed – boy!

The been-there,-got-the-t-shirt team member

Emotional driver: disappointment, frustration, disbelief

Looking at them now, you might not believe it, but some people already went OUT there, trying new ways to approach things. But being ahead of their times, they didn’t succeed in getting people with them. They got frustrated and convinced the organisation would never, ever change. They got stuck in that mindset.

The good news is, the will to change still sparks in them, but it has been buried deep in disappointment. Talk to them about the big picture, show them the dot on the horizon. Explain how it could work this time and what his/her role could be. Get them into a trial period of 2 sprints. Keep them closely involved and as soon as you notice that spark starting to glow again, give them some more responsibility. In the end, they might become your biggest advocate!

The I’m-trying-to-hang-in-there team member

Emotional driver: resignation, exhaustion

Some people suffer in silence, while their results do show something is going on. A person is so much more than only a team member. Always consider what might be going on in someone’s personal life. Never underestimate the impact of e.g. taking care voluntarily of older or ill family members, or new-born children. You cannot know everything as a colleague, but it sure doesn’t hurt showing some interest in the personal life of your team members. Make time for coffee or lunch and avoid work-related topics. All work and no play makes Jack a dull – and uninformed – boy!

Before you assume, try this crazy method called “asking”

Pay attention and listen

In the end, people are social animals. When someone is falling behind or stepping out on purpose, or is even sabotaging the group’s progress, there is an underlying message to be heard. The challenge is in finding out what it is! Be aware of your natural bias; we all have a tendency to pigeonhole people. So before someone is denominated as a black sheep, do create the circumstances for that person to share what is behind the charade. Pay attention and listen, show you are really interested in his or her story. You may end up with your most worthwhile team member ever!