Tag Archives: work

Some Causes of Dysfunctional Workplaces

Here are some real observations over 25 years of working in software development and in volunteer organisations as well.  I can give specific anecdotes for each and every one of these listed anti patterns.  I can be contacted privately to share only via a voice conversation.  I also wouldn’t want to be recorded for fear of retribution or legal action (in fact it should be the reverse, should be illegal to allow these behaviours).
Many people relate to these issues because they tell me them also and the research confirms that with 9 out of 10 people unhappy at work .  They are afraid to voice an opinion and rightly so.  They want better but are fearful because they have families to support and can’t risk losing a job or going backward.  Those unnamed people should be acknowledged and this is their anonymous voice through me.
The issues being raised mean that people suffer and when people suffer then the company as a whole will suffer.   Ill performing teams means work is not done to the best of everyone’s ability.  Absenteeism goes up and is a further cost impediment to the company.  People take their work problems home and take it out on their family making for a inharmonious home life.  They bring this feeling back to work and the cycle continues.
 Note some of these are similar but are stated again to imply a subtlety that ought to be acknowledged.  I regretfully acknowledge that I’ve been a perpetrator of some of these wrongs driven by what I’ve observed in the workplace – that is it appears to be condoned behaviour and some don’t even realise that it’s a problem and that it is normal.
Some or even all of these apply to employees as well, but we single out management as they need to lead and should be leading through actions otherwise why be in this position.
 I’m sorry to say that some people marketing themselves at Agile Coaches and Consultants exhibited these (anti-)patterns.  But I guess we all need to learn including myself.  That includes standing up for what is right and just.
 Now, you may not agree with the list, parts of it or the whole idea of it.  To that I point you to another blog post entitled You don’t have to agree, You have to take notice –  and is my response to this.
After this list I’ve provided some resources on how you can improve.  It’s not just a rant but a rant with proposed solutions.  It’s a small starting but it’s a starting point.
 Finally I will use this to help myself improve. Knowing is the first step. If you attend an interview with me expect some of these to mentioned as questions framed as either have you experienced this and what did you about it or have you been guilty of any of these and what did you do correct it.  They way you answer will determine if I use you.  It will filter out a lot of people but then again I only want the best.

The List (which could grow)

  1. Asking for estimates and then taking them as commitments
  2. Providing estimates for work they aren’t going to be doing
  3. Taking estimates and applying a factor either up or down.  That’s right I don’t trust you.
  4. Publicizing an arbitrary deadline without asking anyone else first.  Especially prevalent in companies listed on the stock market.
  5. Playing the blame game when a publicized deadline like the above is not met.
  6. Asking employees to cut corners in favour of an ill-conceived short term goal mostly in their own self interest
  7. Telling employees who know how to do their job how to do their job, especially when they aren’t the expert
  8. Asking someone to do something knowing that they may not have the right skills or fall just short and then chastise them when they do in fact come up short
  9. Related not creating a learning opportunity with it’s accompanying expected failure points that allows someone to increase their skills
  10. Providing an unsafe work environment: physical, psychological and emotional
  11. Using expletives/profanity during a meeting to cover over a weakness or to feign a form of bravado
  12. Not apologising for using expletives/profanity as if it were a right that no one else holds
  13. Permits and/or uses slurs (racial, sexual, social background) assuming that everyone is Ok with that
  14. Seeks others to ‘cheer them on’ when they have an axe to grind further encouraging base human behaviour in others
  15. Willingly treat outside contractors and suppliers with contempt.  Permits others to do the same.  Used as a tactic to think a contractor can come on board full time because they will then get better treatment in return
  16. Permits others to treat outside contractors and suppliers with disdainful behaviour and slights.  Almost the same as the previous except they didn’t really start it but still happy to condone it
  17. Instilling fear into employees such that their only way of expressing issues and problems is to whine about during a break when management isn’t present
  18. To meekly acknowledge an issue but not follow up.  Lip service to better management.
  19. Seeking to put themselves forward at the expense of their team, which encourages subordinates to think that this is just the way it is for it to be repeated elsewhere
  20. Condoning less than civil behaviour amongst employees.  For example allowing attacks either aggressive or passive, reasoning that this is just the way it is.  Refusal to acknowledge this as bad behaviour
  21. Reflects bad behaviour by using it as a lever to coerce others to fall into line
  22. Allowing a culture of intolerance to differences
  23. Resorts to firing of employees rather than discussion when a problem arises or a personality conflict occurs
  24. Hiring someone and then when they don’t come up to expectations are immediately marched out and humiliated.
  25. Refusal to defend employees against an unreasonable customer
  26. Making false promises to coerce compliance.
  27. Exuding a power persona, that they laud over others.
  28. Wantonly flaunting privileges of a position.  It’s visible to others and they know it.
  29. When subjected to false promises themselves do not follow up with the promise.  Talks behind their back about the false promise.
  30. When hearing of a false promise not offering to follow up on behalf of the aggrieved party – the complaint is actually a request
  31. Make (what turn out to be) erroneous or fake gestures/claims.  Not following up to explain hoping it ‘blows over’
  32. Not attending to the needs of employees to grow and feel that they are appreciated
  33. Making employees the villains when problems arise
  34. Happy/relieved to let good employees go as they were a threat anyway
  35. Overriding the thoughts and decisions of employees because ‘you know best’ and ‘you need to be seen to exert your authority’
  36. Bosses of bosses condoning and allowing bad behaviour because they are needed to be seen to support who’ve they’ve put in place
  37. Preferring to make snide comments sometimes the other party is not present rather than provide meaningful feedback.  It’s more funny and others may get a chuckle out of it
  38. Make comments/gossips behind people’s backs rather then confronting the real issue
  39. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating this is how you should have done it
  40. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that you should have know this already
  41. Body Language, the feeling that is exuded indicating that your not ready to be considered part of the group
  42. Not providing a welcome for a new employee – ignoring them, not offering to take them out if from out of town
  43. Allowing a contractor to be treated as a second class citizen and condoning derogatory comments about the contractor and to the contractor
  44. Believes their emotional well being is more important than employees and therefore it’s Ok to go off, get mad but not allow the same of employees
  45. Does not see that a complaint is really a request.  Will portray the complainer as just another moaner and whinger
  46. Says they will do something but actually using it as a tool to better their own position because it will cause failure for others
  47. Does not provide information.  “need to know basis’ is an anti-pattern
  48. Thinks nepotism is a good thing.  ‘My brother, my wife, my girlfriend can do this job’  implies arrogance and self interest
  49. Believes dissent to be a bad thing.  Can’t have employees injecting another opinion
  50. Believes a quiet meeting is a good meeting.  They are doing what I tell them
  51. Will use sex as a tool.  e.g. Women will use alluring and sometimes even crude gestures (touching) to cover weakness.  Men will resort to innuendo in a passive aggressive stance.
  52. Intolerant to failure.  Will not accept failure and will record it as a negative against an employee.  Promotes a culture of ‘It’s better to not be wrong’
  53. Encouraging a complaining culture by complaining oneself and not seeking to address the complaints of others and themselves. Laizez Faire attitude
  54. Congratulating bad behaviour like saying ‘They handled that tricky situation well’  ‘He’s a real political animal, not many can handle themselves like that’ – hiding an impediment actually
  55. Don’t think they need to get any better.  Doesn’t read books, attend seminars or give seminars.  ‘I’m a manager because I now this stuff already’
  56. Disrespectful use of nicknames without a rapport established, e.g. Hey Davo, Paulo.
  57. Brazenly takes credit for what others have found or created. Take it as their own and doesn’t acknowledge others.
  58. Will not thank someone for their work when they leave because they don’t like them.
  59. Worse, do not organise a leaving ceremony like everyone else gets to send a message.  Rather it says your heartless
  60. Not standing up for a colleague when you and others know that a wrong has been committed against that person
  61. Failing to be learn lessons and apply learnings from those lessons.  Often reviews are performed but it’s a lip service.  No tangiable outcomes arise
  62. Failing to maintain an improvement backlog.  A tangible way to track improvement rather than lip service and hope for the best
  63. Not being accountable to team goals and seeks to blame others when things go wrong
  64. Happy to perpetuate a blame and recrimination culture because that is the way it is and it’s normal
  65. Adept at performing the Cover Your Ass Manoeuvrer and then openly celebrating it and accepting plaudits for it
  66. Failing to be of service to employees, that is not practising Servant Leadership.  That is we need to look after the needs of others so that we may all succeed as well
  67. Allows a situation to fester out of a misplaced loyalty.  Related to the HiPPO syndrome.  Meanwhile ideas and alternatives are ignored.
  68. Casts those who provide suggestions, ideas and alternatives as disloyal villains of the HiPPOs
  69. Allowing the HiPPOs to take on jobs or roles for which they are lacking skill when others have the skills required
  70. Allowing HiPPOs to bury other ideas and accepting flimsy reasoning for allowing it to occur
  71. Allow traditional requirements knowing they are wasteful to the client because it means more billing hours. This creates disharmony for the client and the workers. Should use an Agile Contract.
  72. Using the requirements to shoehorn another product that isn’t needed. Taking advantage of customer ignorance, but it comes back to bite when the budget is absorbed and it doesn’t work.
  73. Assuming others do not have the ability to manage and condemning them for it
  74. Failure is Ok as long as it vindicates my own position
  75. Maintains siloes of information.  Doesn’t allow information to be shared between groups.  Doesn’t share information with team members.  Prevents good information from reaching others that could help them achieve their goals.
  76. Thinking that every problem needs to be solved by them negating/nullifying the capability of the team.  Arrogance.
  77. More generally thinking that employees have to be told what to do and must always ask what to do next.  Same theme as the previous, arrogance and assuming the team will not function without them
  78. Thinking burnout is a failure of the employee rather than a symptom of a bad system of work
  79. Thinking that keeping everyone busy by overloading is more efficient.  The busy work paradox.  Not Limiting WIP
  80. Thinking that employees do not need slack to learn new stuff, to recharge and to reconnect.
  81. Working longer than 8 hours a day thinking that your effective.  This is only short term, long term you’ll feel it
  82. Claiming that reading a document at home over dinner is chargeable to the client – greedy
  83. Resorting to snide comments as a way of dealing with a comment or suggestion that you don’t like
  84. Causing the health of employees to fail due to overwork or emotional exertion.  Some even result in death.
  85. Immediately criticizing the detail of a suggestion and therefore negating the validity of a suggestion as a whole. A Fear Response.
  86. Holds a meeting looking for ideas but then focuses on those that align with their own
  87. Admonishing in public rather than providing feedback in a private yet positive setting
  88. Maneuvering to covertly remove someone from a team via meetings and conversations and to then spring it on the poor unfortunate person.
  89. A derogatory comment designed to support a superior who feels challenged by someone else’s question.  Suits them better for their own goals and purposes.
  90. Sidelining or worse ostracizing introverts making their input appear less valuable
  91. Complaining about introverted behaviour, they should be more outgoing, rather than accepting people as they are and helping them grow and helping them to utilize their natural talent
  92. Related but more general, immediately discounting the thoughts of others because the opinion of the HiPPO counts more
  93. Upon seeing someone not tapping on a keyboard automatically thinking that they are slacking off.  I’m paying you to code not think.
  94. An employee doesn’t immediately understand a new concept or instruction and conveys this.  Subsequently this is held against them, they must be below par.
  95. Upon receiving new information or a new concept, silence is taken as acceptance.  Later on when something goes wrong as a result, it’s the always the employee’s fault.
  96. Not providing training and support for an employee who needs to improve in a weak area.  Better to move them on.
  97. Using and emotional release or outburst from someone against them, speaking ill-will of them
  98. Encouraging a Hero culture.  Heroes get stuff done.  Actually the reverse is true and teams get things done faster than Heroes.  Teams mean there is no weak link
  99. Similar yet different to be mentioned, playing favourites which results in others being favoured over others for the wrong reasons (mostly)
  100. Again similar, protecting some from consequences whilst others are not.  Overall, protection from consequences is not good.
  101. When listening we are actively looking to refute
  102. Doesn’t ensure a there is no weak link by neglecting to create an environment of cross pollination, cross training, knowledge sharing and mutual support amongst team members
  103. Confusing uncertainty with weakness.  Being certain implies arrogance and does let other opinions exist
  104. Thinking that talking to oneself (e.g. Rubber Ducking) is a weakness and saying something that will stop someone doing it like ‘Your going mad’.
  105. Admonishing others when they appear to show ‘weakness’
  106. Creating a stressed environment by stating at the start that you’ve only got one chance or your out
  107. Confusing silence with harmony.  Silence can mean artificial harmony and absence of useful conflict.
  108. Forcing consensus even when consensus is not really present therefore ignoring potential showstoppers
  109. Not committing to removal of obstacles like lack of information about requirements, not having the tooling to perform a job effectively, quickly and with quality
  110. Committing to performing work when you and everyone knows that something is not needed and is a wasted effort
  111. Committing to performing work when you and everyone else knows that there is not enough information to perform the work
  112. Disallowing others to seek information when information is lacking
  113. Is vengeful and seeks retribution when told something that doesn’t agree with them.
  114. Delivers information in a way that will invite a vengeful response in the future, generally untraceable to the previous incident(s)
  115. Barring employees from talking to customers because its seen that there should only be one funnel of information
  116. When hearing of a new improvement seeks to hide it or discount it because it would not suit their own purposes or damage their perceived standing amongst others.  Cites reasons to cover this up that ring hollow.
  117. Brings in outside consultants to tell them what the insiders have already told them and then chooses to ignore or rubbish the findings.
  118. Using email to relay news. Email is a copout for direct communication.
  119. Allow oneself to be exposed to Insider information (listed company) which results in strange decisions that favour personal gain at the expense of others.  Strangely congratulated if you can achieve this.
  120. Use of the excuse ‘Too busy’ – means there is a root cause being ignored
  121. Finding an excuse rather than a reason
  122. Related – using the excuses for not following up in a timely and respectful manner
  123. Creating excuses to create a barrier that prevents the real problem from being seen.  Other need to deal with the emotional obfuscation.
  124. Having the perpetual blind eye.  As long as it doesn’t effect me then why bother.
  125. Saying that we are running an Agile project but then carrying on like a traditional project manager and handing out tasks instead of allowing self organisation.
  126. Publicizing a project as being an Agile project and even writing articles about it when events like the previous dysfunction and many other wastes occur.
  127. Saying that they are Agile but not stating against which benchmark or not demonstrating principles from the Agile Manifesto.  Egocentric self assessment designed to validate oneself in front of others.
  128. Superficially labelling people causing them to be pigeon holed and not able to grow, they wont last long as employees and will move on by themselves.
  129. Using the above a tactic to passively remove someone who’s getting in your way
  130. Thinking the best way to change someone is to command them to change
  131. The second last one and almost the best, not apologizing for any of the above mentioned behaviours
  132. Finally, the best one, recognising any of the above and not doing anything to correct it.
 Here are some resources to help correct these.
  • Read Books – Marquet, Lencioni, Agile Literature on Coaching, Management 3.0, Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching Courses – Esther Derby, Lyssa Adkins, Linda Rising
  • Training/Transformation Companies – Adapt By Design
  • Websites:
    • Lolly Daskal – good example on not being a sycophant from LinkedIn.com, she posts on inc.com as well
    • Christopher Avery writes on everyone taking responsibility
    • Juergen Appelo, inc.com, mile.com, HappyMelly.com
  • A fantastic video from Joshua Kerievsky on Anzeneering
  • Use twitter and follow these people
  • Use LinkedIn/Twitter to ask for help
  • Act your way to better behaviour.  Pick some items to improve on and recognise when those behaviours occur and try to take the right track rather than the old wrong track
  • Provide Life Coaching to help you and employees deal with life’s little struggles at work and at home


Managing work with ScrumDo – Part 1

ScrumDo is another online tool for managing work.  It competes in the space of tools like LeanKit, Jira Agile, Kanbanery, SwiftKanban and a host of other tools from other vendors.  The differentiation it appears to me, is that ScrumDo is slanted to a (outright) ScrumBan view of the world, combining aspects of Scrum and Kanban in what could be a much stronger product than some other offerings out there (my experience is only with LeanKit, Jira Agile and TFS/Visual Studio – not a huge amount :)).  You could run a Scrum, Kanban or a ScrumBan – and you can in other tools for that matter, but the features in built in ScrumDo make it appear or feel more targeted to this.

Here in Part 1 of a series of posts I describe the setup of the first iteration of a project I’m currently running.  In a previous post on LeanKit, I noted that I lacked a proper breakdown of tasks for big items on my Personal Kanban that was causing some morale issues – although I did get to end with flying colours, it’s not a way of working I recommend.

Note: I include many screenshots.  I recommend clicking on the image to get a clear view if you so desire.

Cleaning up the Previous Board

I did a board for the previous project but it fell into disuse.  I decided to clean it up.  The standard board presents two horizontal lanes, an Expedite Lane which anyone from a Kanban background will recognize and a lane for the current iteration.  Here’s what I started with and you can see the expedited column is blank.  It’s hardly used and I didn’t want to use it so a later view you will see that I removed it.


I used the Iteration Planning Tool to move items, but you can also use the above view:

Iteration Tool - Movinf Current to Completed

Cleaning up the Board – the Board Editor

I removed the Expedite column in the Board Editor, a view of which is shown here.  Subsequent to this I’ll show later on some other edits that include WIP limits, effectively ScrumBan-ing the board, and adding policies under the columns like Definition of Ready for stories and Definition of Done for development  tasks.

Editing the board - want to remove the Expedite lane for this project

Epics and Stories

The first thing to do was create the Epic and Stories.  I’m following standard scrum backlog grooming practice and I created the Epics and Stories.  As this a project to create course material for an ICAgile accredited course for my company, About Agile, the Epics and Stories followed the layout of the ICAgile learning objectives for the most part.  Easily filled in – not a big Release Planning session required for this project 🙂

There are a number of views for creating Epics and Stories. Here is the Backlog view:

Adding Stories to New Iteration

And here’s from the Epic Planning View:

Epics planned out - feels like 2 to 3 two-week iterations worth of work

Sprint/Iteration Planning

With a Release plan created (though Epics and High Level Stories and no more) it’s time to create the first sprint/iteration.  The first iteration was already created as shown above and is also a way to setup an iteration.  There is also some setup that can be done – interestingly one can set resource availability in hours – I wonder if this fits in with #NoEstimates 🙂 , something for later. The steps correspond roughly to part 1 of sprint planning as you’ll find in the scrum guide.

Iteration Planning - Resource Allocation

Along the way you may find that you need to change things around.  For instance I needed to to convert a story into an Epic (I’m playing multiple roles being the only person on the project – PO and Developer and ScrumMaster):

Converting Story to an Epic

I also had to move a story between Epics.  This can be done in the Edit Story view.  Notice standard Fibonacci Series relative estimation can be changed here (as well as elsewhere):

Move to another epic

And also through a specific view that converts a story to an Epic.  In this example I found I needed further breakdown and hence converted the story to an epic:

Converting Story to an Epic

Sprint Planning Part 2 – Some Task Breakdown

Here I’ll show some view that allow the first few items of the sprint to be broken down.  I don’t break down everything as the July 2013 version of the Scrum Guide guides us to do.  I just setup enough to get going and start producing, also leaving some room for the innovation.  This view shows I’m actually working on the sprint planning tasks:

Planning, cycling between choosing and how to do the work

And this one is showing how desperately hard I’m trying to think of the tasks that may be required for a task.  Inevitably there will be something I missed:

Tasks - trying to think of everything

and as always – I try and use a pomodoro/tomato timer – I sometimes forget that as well.  Here I’m taking the time to take a break during sprint planning, but maybe if your doing this in a group you’d space the pomodoro to longer than 25 minutes:

Taking a Pomodoro Break during Planning

Done some editing of the board whilst I created the Sprint Plan

Here I present some editor views.  As I was creating the plan and learning the features available in ScrumDo I changed things to suit the desired way of working.  Here I removed the Expedite horizontal lane and added WIP limits.  Most columns use points for limits except the Done columns which are using card count to force a pull into the next column of the value stream.  Will see how that pans out.

View of new Board with WIP Limits and removed Expedite Lane

In this view I’m adding a Policy and a WIP limit for the TODO column.  This view is accessible via the board editor:

Adding Policy and WIP Limit for TODO column

So I got to the end of editing the board and sprint planning and the board took more shape with the first 4 tasks, the most important, having been broken down:

Created Tasks for first few days of the sprint

Advisable to have a Sprint Goal

Yes you need a milestone to aim for and I recorded mine as part of the sprint planning task and used the time recording view to keep track of the time I spent.  As far a time spent, I’m not really sure I want to 1. Give a time estimate and 2. Record it.  Fighting off Parkinson’s Law and Student Syndrome is already hard enough.  Time estimates can be taken as targets and both of these dysfunctions can kick in.

Added the Sprint Goal as part of Planning

Tracked time for Planning - but you should save any edit before doing it as I lost my sprint goal comment when I clicked first time

Extras: Policies show up as tool tips

This policy is quite big and not easily view-able.  Not a big issue.

Policy Defined for Doing Column - possible issue with tooltip to fix

This one looks better, not so big:

Definition of Done for the Review Columns

So at the End of the Day

So I did my sprint planning and fixed up the board as shown above in the selection of screenshots.  I made a start on the tasks and found that having the smaller milestones and thinking about tasks drove more satisfying outcomes.  The experience of the previous work, which I’d not done before, was a good input and I have adapted from those experiences.  Having something to aim for what certainly helpful on this first day.

New projects almost always start off a bit haphazardly as all participants find their feet.   This really is dependent on how new the domain is and team forming attributes of a new team The trick to to reflect and adapt, something all too often forgotten or put in the too hard basket.  It’s OK to feel unsure at the beginning, but don’t let this drag on.  Take action to remedy the situation.  It may take several goes at it, but as long as a culture of safety exists, you should be able to take out some very valuable lessons and this is very important to build further from.

Here’s the board at the end of today for this project (BTW: this task, to write this blog, is on my personal board and not this one :))

In subsequently posts I’ll describe new features of ScrumDo as I come across them.  It will interesting to see what metrics and reports I can get out of it.

Status at the end of the first day - will not pull into review until we need to

Note: You can now read Part 2 of the series.

Poll: What’s wrong with this picture?

Caught this picture on the web this week.  It’s intended to be a bit of humour and yes we can laugh.  There’s more to it, obscuring the real causes for dysfunctional behaviour.  I’ve created a poll.  Results will be part of a subsequent blog post. Please have a vote.