Removing Team Members

People often ask me whether teams should have the right to vote members off. To help answer that question, let me share a story with you. I was at a conference when I saw Derek walking toward me. I had first met him a year earlier when I taught a class at his company. I had been back a handful of times, and always enjoyed talking with him. We hadn’t talked in three months and I thought this would be a good chance to catch up.

As we said hello, I could tell something was really bothering him, so we sat down to talk. Derek told me during his team’s sprint review the week before, they asked him to resign as their ScrumMaster and leave the team. He did and was looking around within his company to find another Scrum team to join. Although rare, Derek’s situation is not unheard of. The question of whether the team has the authority to remove a member is a common topic. Commonly referred to as “voting someone off the island,” removing a team member is not an action to be considered lightly. Every effort should be made to address problems that might lead some or all project team members to feel they will be better off without a particular member. An agile or Scrum team alone should not have the right to remove someone from the team. As I detailed in Chapter 12 of Succeeding with Agile, self-organization does not occur in a vacuum.

The right preconditions must be in place for self-organization to occur. Individuals then self-organize within boundaries established by the organization. This is referred to as the CDE model, which says that for self-organization to occur there must be a container that bounds the individuals, some differences among them, and transforming exchanges. Chapter 12 in Succeeding with Agile also makes the point that leaders within the organization exert influence on the self-organizing team by adjusting its containers, differences, and exchanges. For example, over time and through attrition a team might become too homogeneous.

An astute scrum product owner, functional manager, or even ScrumMaster might counter by adding two new team members with radically different backgrounds, skills, decision-making styles, or so on. Doesn’t it seem possible—likely even, in this example—that a team might have a knee-jerk reaction and vote the new, nonconforming individuals off the team, negating the work of the leader who deliberately added them? Ultimate authority for team composition, therefore, must reside with the leadership of the organization. Those leaders should listen, of course, when team members say they think they’d be more productive without a member. But, team members should not be allowed on their own to remove someone from the team.

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Mike Cohn

About the Author

Mike Cohn specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile processes and techniques to build extremely high-performance teams. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile as well as the Better User Stories video course. Mike is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance and can be reached at If you want to succeed with agile, you can also have Mike email you a short tip each week.