How to use Peer pressure to get your Scrum team back on track!

“I don’t know why he’s playing so rubbish Jem”

“It’s weird, he’s not performing at all – his heads not in the game”

My brothers captained his local football team for a little while now, and just like a ScrumMaster he’s someone who wants to do all he can to get the best out of his team.

He continued telling me about one of his team challenges…

“I told him exactly what I thought, I give him honest feedback but I have to say, it’s not making any difference”.

It made me think about my day to day role.

How do I, as a ScrumMaster handle ‘bad’ performance or someones ‘head not being in the game’?

“What about the rest of the boys? Have you said anything to them about his change in performance?”

That was my instinctive reaction.

“Nah, that’s my job right ?” he replied.

How interesting.

Was it just the captains job to point out someones ‘bad’ performance?

Or should the team show some collective leadership to sort out any challenges they may have?

See for me,  if I notice a a change in player performance or morale, I have asked the team what they are doing about it?

Before I push on.

Let me be clear on what I regard as ‘bad’ performance  or someones ‘head not being in the game’.

-People not respecting the Scrum events

-People turning up late all of the time

-People not  talking up about risk (i.e stands up, if that story went up in complexity you need to tell us like yesterday)fe

-Peoples morales going down.

Basically everything to do with STOPPING the team from going towards Scrum success. (Working as one organism, doing all they can to deliver their Sprint goal, not managing risk effectively, not sticking to team commitments and just overall screwing with the Scrum framework)

I ain’t talking about a developer who is struggling with the challenges of learning TDD, or a developer who misunderstood a requirement, or  a developer that isn’t the sharpest guy when he pairs up with another dev in a certain part of the code – NONE OF THESE THINGS are to do with ‘bad’ performance – this is part of learning, this is part of accepting that we all have different abilities and it is ‘different’ that creates a balanced healthy dynamic in Scrum teams.


How do I handle ‘bad’ performance or someones ‘head not being in the game’?

When Tim kept turning up late, some times the default response from ScrumMasters is “ok, we need to get a fine system in place”.

You’re basically looking to create a deterrent right? Something that stops someone from doing something, or not.

Now that works, but for me I think there are better drivers that we can create for people to take Scrum events seriously.

Also, I may be the guy who is there to protect the health of the team and enforce Scrum rules – but that enforcing of the rules is also what every single Scrum practitioner should be doing – Dev, QA, BA, Designer, whoever – if you believe in the power of the framework and someones working against it, question it.

Look – I ain’t saying that being a ScrumMaster means you can’t point out problems or dysfunction – of course you can but I also feel like if you are the one who is always seen to be pointing out the problems you are discouraging people from thinking for themselves & not allowing the team to self organise and figure out it’s own problems as a team  – and so until they notice it, I sometimes allow teams to get things wrong, experience it, reflect and then have a strong driver to stop whatever it is from happening, happening again.

So as I was saying…’s 9:30am.

Stand up.

There was no sign of Tim.

“So what’s the deal with people turning up late guys?” Me.


I ignored it. And I waited.

“Tim’s not here.. he’s late again” said an uncomfortable Pete.

“Yeah that’s Tim for ya ” replied Tom.

Wry smiles all round.

“Painful isn’t?” I chipped in.

“What? Him always being late for the stand up? Yeah means we need to update him when he does get in” Responded Tom.

“Yep,so…. what are you doing about it exactly?”


“So you guys are cool with him turning up late all the time?”

A little antagonisation is healthy.

Blank faces, some murmurs – no conviction, coming back.

“Anyone spoken to him about it?”

“You guys are a team right?”

“You’re going after the same goal, we’re all in it together aren’t we?”


I took the foot off the gas and let it go.

Day 2.

9:30 am

Stand up begins, no sign of Tim.

Stand up complete.

Tim walks in.

Nice timing.

“Sorry guys, the train…”

Sudden interjection.

“C’mon Tim” said Paul piped up, he continued….

“Every time you’re late, we have to explain where we are off line ….”

Maybe my question of “what are you (the team) doing about it?” had triggered something.

“We could all just do it once in the morning pitched in” Lisa


“Sorry guys.. Tim’s sheepish reply.

And then it came out.

“Come on man, get here on time … we need you here” Paul.

Something happened.

Pressure happened.

Not pressure from me, but pressure from the team.

Peer pressure that said “We need you here, we need here on TIME so we can do this thing together !”

Pretty powerful stuff.

Because Tim’s face was one of self disappointment.

No one wants to let down the side.

When we think of peer pressure we sometimes have known it as a negative thing, but if it is peer pressure for something that is for a team goal and that team goal is positive in Scrum – peer pressure can be a great tool to address ‘bad’ performance in Scrum teams.

I have tried the peer pressure approach over the last few years to address any individual problems that I have had in Scrum teams and have found it to be more effective than individual pressure (i.e. me approaching that individual and telling them what I need from them)

When your team put pressure on you, when your team put pressure on you to be accountable to what you committed to – that really hits home.

That REALLY IS more potent than individual pressure.

Sure I could have said something to Tim.

But then he would have had only me to let down.

But now?

Now Tim has the  entire team to let down.