Monday, November 9, 2009

Individual Recognition on a Scrum team

Hmmm... another conversation in the Agile Alliance LinkedIn group. Here was the question:
Should we have an individual recognition award in a SCRUM team? Lots of people says that individual award is against an Agile methodology. Award should be given to a team not to a individual team member.
I tried to play a passive role and stated the following:
I have seen these conversations occur many times in many forums and the end of the conversation always results in a "NO" with a very good list of reasons. The risks outweigh the rewards no matter how you set it up.

There is a gray area of disagreement on whether the team can spontaneously award a peer or not. But the minute you make it a regular event, it wanders back into the problem area.

The best reward is taking a respected peer out for coffee/beer and telling them you appreciate their contributions, or saying in front of the team what good they've done. This doesn't need to be organized.
And the first few responses before mine were in line with this:
If you want to have a well jelled team - absolutely not.
The only exception I can think of is if the team requests it.
But that sets up a conflict of interest. - Jay Conne

The only time an individual award is appropriate is if the team wants to acknowledge an individual who has made a significant contribution that made a big difference TO and FOR THE TEAM. - Shane Hastie
But then we got the extremist viewpoint thrown in:
The Communists tried the concept of Co-Operative farming. Under that framework, no individual was supposed to be better than the rest. Needless to say, the concept didn't work out.
So I found myself having to take a stance and state the following:
Here's the best way to summarize what I'm insinuating/feel:

If an award is financially valuable... and it is regular (creating a sense of expectation), then it has a higher probability of creating individual behaviors over team behaviors unless your team remains constantly aligned to itself (resources typically fluctuate too much for this to be assumed).

If a reward is simply a show of appreciation and a call to what behaviors or achievements the team should continue to grow and repeat, then this has a higher probability of creating a collective and positive team behavior, especially if it is unexpected (not scheduled), and driven by the team.
Feel free to include your own thoughts in the comments, but I have to say that I'm not very open to debate on this one.


  1. I agree with you on this one Kevin. If you incentivize individuals then you will get individualized behavior, namely people looking out for themselves. This is highly counter productive in Agile. What you want is team effort and cohesion, so providing team-based incentives is the only way to go.

  2. I have a somewhat different perspective on this. In the end, it depends on what you are rewarding. I agree it is problematic where you are recognizing individual contributions to the team effort, especially where it becomes regular/expected. In this case you do get the exact opposite result of what you want - individualized behavior. That said, I think that you can recognize and reward individuals, but ONLY for progession on their development path as a contributor.

    For example, it is problematic to recognize and or reward an individual team member for "best contributor to sprint." However, it is not problematic to recognize/reward individual progress toward developing skills that contribute to the work that the team does.

    Does this make sense?

  3. Chris-

    Actually I agree with this. This is a great way to support resource management and development.

    I almost see this as a separate thing though. I think what you are doing is separate the topic of "rewarding a single team member for good team behavior" from "rewarding a single team member for growing as a potential team contributor". Subtle difference (almost splitting hairs), but I think the second is of value from a company perspective regardless of what team that person is on. The first topic is of value within that team (and other teams just like it).

  4. It might be possible for the team to vote for the "most valuable member", I guess. One should only make sure that the winner is recognized among the "most helpfull" members, rather than among those who build fences round their area of expertice and work heroically in solitude inside those walls.