Home > Articles > Software Development & Management

Software Development Dilemma #1: My Team Seems to Spend Too Much Time Arguing. What Can I Do?

  • Print
  • + Share This
Hidden agendas. Personal priorities. Different preconceptions. You're supposed to lead a software development team, but you can't get them to stop arguing with each other. What do you do?
This chapter is from the book

Some disagreement and even downright arguing is normal and healthy, particularly at certain times in the project's life.

When people first start to work together as a group, there is a certain amount of posturing and jostling for position. People come to the project with different preconceptions about how it should be tackled, and they bring different viewpoints to bear. They also have their own hidden agendas and their own personal priorities that they hope to pursue on the back of the project. These various differences come out fairly soon after the real work starts, and are manifested in arguments about work and in personal friction.

This is normal and natural behaviour for human beings. It does not mean that you have an unworkable or disruptive group of people. Quite the opposite, it shows that you have a group of people that is starting to gel into a team. Indeed, you should be far more worried if you find yourself in a group of people who sullenly avoid talking to each other, or who keep going off for furtive discussions in private cliques. A lack of open discussion and disagreement would indicate a serious problem.

I would go as far as to say that a team cannot work effectively unless it has been through the arguing stage. But that stage has to be handled properly by the team leader. The arguing stage should subside once the direction of the team is established and people have work that they can get on with, but it is necessary to go through that stage, to get issues out into the open and resolved. If you try to suppress arguments, they will rumble on for a long time, surfacing periodically to disrupt the project. Better to get them out in the open and settled at the beginning.

It is the leader's role to mediate in conflicts. You must be seen to be taking note of the opinions raised, and to be listening openly and fairly to them. You must balance the needs of the project (especially as seen from the customer's point of view), the needs and desires of the individuals making the argument, and the needs of the other people who have a stake in the outcome.

You must not give in to individuals who are jostling for more responsibility than they deserve. Nor must you allow the project to be pulled off course because of a desire by one (or even all) of the engineers to further their own priorities, such as building up their CVs. It is during this early argumentative stage that the guiding principles and priorities

of the project should emerge. Indeed, it is the emergence of a consensus about these principles and priorities that eventually causes the arguments to cease. So at the start of the project, you should be constantly ready to state, and sometimes to modify, the principles of the project. These principles may cover both technical and organizational issues.

It is for you as team leader to galvanize arguments into a decision, and more than that, it should be a decision about a clearly stated basic principle, not just about the specific issue. For instance, if some of the team are arguing that a new technology should be adopted for this project, while others are arguing for a more well-understood route to be taken, then you have the opportunity to state a principle, such as 'we will do it the old way because there are so many other new factors on this project to worry about that we shouldn't risk using that new technology as well' or alternately you might decide 'we should use the most productive tools available to us even if it takes time to learn them'. It is for you to reduce the specific arguments down to a choice of more general principles, and then use the project priorities to decide between the possible principles.

Far from suppressing arguments in the early stages of a project, it is your job to get them out in the open where they can be discussed maturely, and not to allow them to become personal or entrenched. Many people prefer to grumble, or to make snide remarks, rather than raise an issue directly. You should act as a catalyst, airing issues that you see to be contentious, listening to the opinions, and where necessary forcing a decision to be made that everyone on the team can live with.

It is worth remembering that the arguments may start all over again if a new person joins the team. After a little time you will notice friction building up between that person and the rest of the team. Whilst the team may be polite in the new person's presence, they may be scathing behind his or her back. Do not panic. The person is not being rejected, in fact they are starting the process of being accepted.

Another time when disagreement is to be allowed or to some extent encouraged is during reviews, especially design reviews. Engineers often have quite large egos concerning design issues and patterns and can find it hard to accept that other people may have a different approach that is as good as their own, or at least good enough. Very often a better design will emerge from a clash between opposing viewpoints, if a little creativity and humour are also thrown in. It's the team leader's job to mediate in these discussions, ensuring that everyone gets a fair hearing and that the discussion stays professional and doesn't become personal. Good design meetings are often full of banter and good-natured insults.

Arguments may be healthy in some circumstances but they should not be allowed to go on too long or to happen at inappropriate times. If the same argument has been repeated three times, there is no point in having it a fourth time. In this situation you should quickly review the decision that has been made, and then make it clear that the decision is made and the team must move on. If decisions turn out to be wrong then they will have to be reversed, but they must stand for the time being. If someone on your team absolutely refuses to accept the consensus of the team and continues to be disruptive, you have got a personnel problem to deal with, either with that person or with the make-up of the team as a whole – see SECTION 22: SOMEONE WHO'S A REAL PROBLEM.

Beware, however, that shy people can be inhibited by a 'robust macho' atmosphere and may be alienated if it goes on too long.

Sometimes there can be problems where a person suppresses their disagreements. This is quite common with contract staff, who often feel it

inappropriate to disagree with the consensus of the team or with its leader. This is an unhealthy situation, as someone will not work effectively if they don't believe in what they are doing. However, it is very hard to remedy. Demanding to hear a person's opinions is likely to be very counter-productive. The only solution is to encourage a relaxed and supportive atmosphere in the team, where opinions can be voiced safely, without fear, by all members. Always act against any tendency for people to put others down, score points, or take an 'us and them' attitude, either across a split within the team, or with regard to other teams or organizations that you work with.

As the team matures, the number of arguments should reduce. In a healthy situation this is because the project's principles have been defined and accepted by the team and there is no need for further discussion on them.

When a team works well together, everyone gets a reward in the form of a more relaxed, productive and sociable working day. For most people, this reward is worth sacrificing some of their own personal agendas and preferences, and so most people will soon commit themselves to the team's common approach if they think that a real team atmosphere and a successful project are going to result.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020