Scrum 101: How incivility can affect your team’s motivation

Women in Agile is a public group dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of women in Agile. The group holds regular learning sessions every Wednesday where members share their valuable experience and knowledge with the rest of the group. On Wednesday 23 March 2022, xneelo’s own scrum master, Charlotte Rawlinson, hosted a session on incivility in the workplace, and how it ties in with the Scrum value of Respect and the Agile Principle of building projects around motivated individuals. 

For her talk, Charlotte referenced author and speaker Christine Porath’s study on the effects incivility has on teams and how it can affect a company’s bottom line. 

Here are the key points you can apply in your own business. 

What is incivility?

Incivility can range from clear and obvious belittling or underhanded comments all the way down to the ”smaller” things like looking at your phone in meetings. It’s those unpleasant moments that can ruin a work day and take the wind out of someone’s sails. 

Something as small as a negative word or phrasing can derail an entire meeting. Charlotte shares that hearing a negative phrase can result in the listener being five times more likely to miss information right in front of them on the screen, especially if the speaker is responding negatively to an idea.

“You may not mean to come off as disrespectful, but those actions have consequences. Team agreements and understanding your team dynamics will really help aid in ensuring everyone understands their teammates’ boundaries and what they consider disrespectful,” says Charlotte.

Incivility costs your business money 

Incivility affects people’s motivation.  According to one survey among business school alumni, incivility affected their future careers in the following ways:

  • 66% cut back work efforts
  • 80% lost time worrying 
  • 12% left their job

Cisco reported losing approximately R12 million a year to incivility in the workplace. 

“Our emotions, our motivation, our performance and how we treat others can all be affected by incivility. It drains us, and if you are drained you cannot focus nor think effectively,” says Charlotte.

For highly effective Agile teams, working together harmoniously is crucial. 

Why are people rude at work?

Charlotte explains that incivility can creep in when people are feeling stressed, or under the outdated impression that being nice isn’t “leader like”. 

She cites Christine’s book No Time to Be Nice at Work, which claims the number one reason tied to executive failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.

“Not holding someone down isn’t the same as lifting them up. Your actions need to be intentional and genuine. To be truly civil you will need to ensure that you are doing the small things, like smiling and saying hello in the hallway, and listening fully when someone’s speaking to you,” emphasises Charlotte..

Team members considered civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders and perform significantly better.

How to discourage incivility at work

Christine Porath asked 20,000 employees around the world what they wanted from a leader, and they came to the same conclusion: respect. 

“Being treated with respect is more important than recognition and appreciation, useful feedback, even opportunities for learning,” Charlotte reiterates. “Those who feel respected are healthier, more focused, and more likely to stay with their organisation.”

Even the smallest efforts can have the biggest impact:

  • thanking people
  • sharing credit
  • listening attentively 
  • smiling
  • swapping out negative words for positive ones

According to Christine, incivility chips away at people and their performance, and robs people of their potential, even if they’re just working around it. Civil environments result in more productive, creative, helpful, happy and healthier teams. 

How we approach scrum principles at xneelo

We asked our team of scrum masters to share how we do it at xneelo.

“We foster a learning culture at xneelo where we utilise the three pillars of Scrum (Empiricism) to create transparency, inspection and adaptation. This enables us to continuously improve our self-organisation which aids in the way we work and helps us deliver valuable increments of working software to our customers. We follow principles and values that guide our approach based on Agile Methodology, a thought process that involves shared understanding, collaborating, learning, and remaining adaptable to achieve high-performing results.”

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