Dealing with Slackers, Idiots and Subversives in Agile Teams

August 4, 2021
3 minute read

First, let’s begin with some definitions.

A slacker is somebody who doesn’t seem to contribute their fair share over a period of time. It can result in feelings of resentment, frustration, exhaustion, sometimes even disappointment.

An idiot is someone who doesn’t contribute much knowledge. They often cause exasperation, confusion, even disbelief.

A subversive is someone who tends to contravene what the rest are trying to achieve. They often cause feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, even exacerbation. 

There are two simple directions to consider when you’re dealing with slackers, idiots or subversives: focus on the people, and focus on the work. In both cases, try to rely on the facts, such as how these people’s behaviours affect your work and your contributions, and not on how you feel about their behaviours.

Ask yourself, ‘Does this person affect my ability to perform my duties? Or are they just irritating me?

  • You need to place the focus on the work, not on your feelings. You don’t want to waste valuable energy focusing on the negative. 
  • You should also try to avoid confronting them aggressively. You don’t want to be a complainer, as this may erode the trust and support that you have with others.
  • If after all of this, they are directing and affecting your ability to deliver, try to seek perspective. Start by assuming you are the only one experiencing this behavior, regardless of what you witnessed or heard elsewhere, then seek viewpoints from others.

Remember, when you’re doing this, focus on the work and the outcomes, not on the individual or their behaviors. 

  • Do not seek out perspectives to validate your position and do not discredit any feedback that contravenes what you believe. Try hard to remain neutral; separate yourself, focus on it objectively. Try to remain as neutral as possible to get unbiased feedback.
  • If no one seems to be validating our beliefs, we need to start accepting that as truth and reevaluate our perspectives, because maybe it is partly us. 
  • If we are receiving feedback that seems to validate our beliefs, we should consider taking a different approach, reach out for clarifications, and start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. 
  • The next thing we need to do is invite conversation. Ask those open-ended and powerful questions, not accusatory, or inflammatory questions.

If possible, consider starting a ‘team board’, which can root out problems in the system causing the situations to occur, having the data to back you up, and providing clear evidence about the impact so that you may build strategies to solve these problems.

Work with your team and your leadership to set team policies that expect once work contributions to appear on this board. Look at the people in the system, their skills, and their contributions. Consider building skills matrix where are the gaps, but also consider motivations, frustrations, and interests

We need to help individuals get better so that we can help the team get better

As a leader, you’re responsible for building a long-term, thriving business and the people within the organization are the ones that can make that happen. Be sure to provide a clear vision and outcomes and set larger organizational success metrics that help people understand what they’re trying to do.

This article was adapted from a transcript of a recent BERTEIG webinar.


Berteig Consulting

Empower Your Entire Organization with BERTEIG Consulting in Agile, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and LEAN.

Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
We are a referral centric business. And as such, we stand ready, willing and passionately able to serve anybody important to you by giving them perspective, advice, recommendations, and treating them in a very special way.