How DevOps Can Help You Deal with Overly Aggressive Team Members


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people-issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.


Leslie Sachs explains what to do when members of your team exhibit overly aggressive or downright combative behaviors. Because you’re unlikely to change your colleagues' modus operandi, it is wise to instead consider how your DevOps effort can benefit from taking into account some typical behaviors of people with Type A or Type B personalities.

Technology teams often attract some “interesting” personalities. Some of these folks may simply exhibit odd, perhaps eccentric, behaviors unrelated to their work responsibilities while others may engage in behaviors that undermine the effectiveness of the team or, perhaps conversely, actually stimulate teamwork and contribute to success. The personalities of the folks on your team certainly impact not only how happy you are to show up for work, but also the overall success (or failure) of the organization as well. But what happens when members of your team exhibit overly aggressive or downright combative behaviors, such as insisting that the team adopt their approach or showing a lack of teamwork and collaborative behavior? Since you’re unlikely to change your colleagues' modus operandi, it is wise to consider instead how your DevOps effort can benefit from taking into account some typical behaviors of people with Type A- or Type B-personalities.

First, a quick overview of the history of personality types. Dr. Meyer Friedman was a cardiologist trained at John Hopkins University, who developed a theory that certain behaviors increased the risk of heart attacks [1]. Dr. Friedman developed this theory with another cardiologist by the name of Dr. Ray Rosenman. These two physicians suggested that people who exhibited type "A" behaviors (TAB)—including being overly competitive, hard driving, and achievement oriented—were at higher risk for developing coronary artery disease. Fascinating, and not without some controversy in the medical establishment, this research also makes one ponder how other members of the team might react to interacting regularly with a type "A" personality on the team.

Software development is largely a “Type A” endeavor. The fact is that many highly effective teams have lots of members who are very aggressive, intense, and highly competitive. One important mitigating factor is that technology professionals also need to be right. You can exhibit whatever personality traits you want and the software just won’t work if you didn’t get it right. The next issue is that technology is so complex that few people in today’s global organizations, if any, are able to work entirely on their own. High-performing teams often have specialists who depend upon each other and must collaborate. Even though some degree of competition may be common, frequent collaboration is just not optional. If you have ever been in a meeting with someone who just stuck to their point despite objections from other team members (and seemingly oblivious to any sense of logic) then you probably have seen this type of behavior. Still many technology teams often struggle to overcome a fair amount of conflict and drama.

In the midst of a highly confrontational meeting, it might be tempting to consider what life would be like with the more easy going “Type B” personalities. However, Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley point out that some teams don’t work well when their leaders are unwilling to fight for the team [2]. So, how exactly can one determine what is the right amount of “Type A” versus “Type B” behavior in a DevOps team?

As noted in previous articles, there is a natural tension between the aggressive behavior of highly motivated software developers and the operations professionals who are charged with ensuring that we maintain consistent and continuously available services. Operations often focuses on maintaining the status quo while development presses hard for introducing new features based upon customer demand. It shouldn’t surprise you that both types of behavior are essential for a successful DevOps organization. You need to have aggressive personalities with a strong achievement-focused drive to create new features and improved systems. But you also need to temper this aggressiveness with the more balanced “Type B” behaviors that encourage review and careful analysis. This balance is exactly what the burgeoning DevOps movement brings to the table.

DevOps brings together the views of folks engaged in QA activities, software development, operations, and also information security. Keep in mind that many people are attracted to each of these essential disciplines, in part, due to their personalities as well as by how these roles fit into the goals and objectives of their respective teams. DevOps brings together and improves communications between teams; it also brings together stakeholders with different viewpoints and often very different personalities. Successful teams harness this diversity to help ensure that their cross-functional teams are more effective. The most effective managers understand the basic personalities and communication styles that are often found in cross-functional teams and become adept at developing strategies which utilize these differences productively. With encouragement, competitive “Type A’s” and more laid-back “Type B’s” can learn to “play nice” so that each of their strengths are incorporated and contribute to overall team success!

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