The Problems with Overachievers on Agile Teams

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Aggressive product owners may take advantage of overachievers by equating acquiescence with collaboration and pressuring them to add little features “under the table.” Agile development can be a threat to the overachiever’s sense of control. With agile, we want whole-team participation and swarming, team responsibility, and team recognition. The overachiever, now with less of the spotlight, may feel lost  and long to add value as an individual contributor.

How to Deal with an Overachiever
You can’t change people, but you can encourage new behavior by making the environment conducive to the expected behavior [9]. Here are a few ideas on how to take the fun out of dysfunctional:

Set an Example
Overachievers are motivated by recognition. When an emergency happens and an overachiever steps in, acknowledge the sacrifice but don’t affirm heroics. Rather, recognize team collaboration and emphasize that the team needs to ensure that this pattern of emergency and heroics doesn’t happen again. [10] Make it clear that this type of behavior is a symptom of something worse than the problem that required heroics. Find and fix the root cause.

Appeal to His Intellect and Ego
Overachievers may not realize that the biggest impact within an organization comes from teamwork, not individual effort. Additionally, overachievers are very goal driven.  Help the overachiever understand his style – show him where he can change toward a more collaborative style and set goals focused on changing that behavior.  For example a goal of pairing, giving a brown bag on the project, or a goal of picking an apprentice would help the overachiever be more collaborative.

Appeal to the overachiever’s sense of self-worth by pointing out that being the central focus is limiting his advancement. He can’t take on more responsibility, lead more people, or add higher-level value if he can’t delegate to his teammates. He needs to boost the skills and abilities of his team to create more value. Collaboratively set goals that groom the overachiever to reach the next level, which focuses on team productivity. The overachiever should feel that the goal is something highly important that everyone must accomplish together.

User Comments

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Dave Maschek's picture

The key to this article was that the overachiever "secretly felt insecure". The authors make a good case how overachievers can subvert an Agile team by trying to do everything and thus not allowing others to function as full team members. However, I have seen insecure underachievers cause trouble on a team also. The corporate world has insecure people who can subvert a team by not sharing information, playing safe by always painting a rosy picture, putting up unnecessary roadblocks, giving outdated advice, stubbornly acting against Agile principles, insisting they are always right and so on.  

August 14, 2014 - 12:25pm

About the author

Charles Suscheck's picture Charles Suscheck

Dr. Charles Suscheck is a nationally recognized agile leader who specializes in agile software development adoption at the enterprise level. He is one of only 11 trainers worldwide and 3 in the US certified to teach the entire Scrum.org cirriculum.  With over 25 years of professional experience, Dr. Suscheck has held positions of Process Architect, Director of Research, Principle Consultant, Professor, and Professional Trainer at some of the most recognized companies in America. He has spoken at national and international conferences such as Agile 200X, OOPSLA, and ECOOP on topics related to agile project management and is a frequent author in industry and academia. Dr. Suscheck has over 30 publications to his credit.

About the author

Andrew Fuqua's picture Andrew Fuqua

Andrew Fuqua is an agile coach with more than twenty-five years of experience programming, managing, and coaching. Much of his experience is with commercial software development at various independent software vendors, though he's had increasing experience with IT organizations for the the last seven years. Andrew has been using agile methods since 1999, including five years pair-programming in a test-driven environment.

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