Agile, Scrum Master

Mother-in-law syndrome in the Agile world

Mother in law is spoiling the family life! Managers are spoiling Agile Team!

“Monster in-Laws:” A Leading Cause of Divorce. In the Agile team context this causes for attrition.

An article titled “Divorce Causes: 5 Ways to Destroy Your Marriage” in the Huffington Post states that in-Laws can be a leading cause of divorce. Author Francesca Escoto writes, “how spouses relate to the in-laws is a strong predictor of marriage longevity. A man who gets along with his wife’s parents is wise — his chances of a strong marriage increases by about 20 percent. Women who get along with their in-laws actually have an increased probability of divorce, by about 20 percent.” 

What can we do about it ? We need them but they should not break the family.

In an Agile Team/Family, the manager is like the mother-in-law! in the Agile world they do not have much to do, because they have retired from the active family life, or lets say delivery role. This delivery role is managed by the Product owner and Scrum Master.

But, managers like mother in law is interfering in every course of action.

Have you seen such instances in Agile projects where the manager is hovering around the scrum team?

Mothers-in-law are known for being, judgmental, critical and overbearing. They don’t want to leave the control. For them, you are still kids and cannot decide for your good. In Project team also Manager could be the same.

She is always right, without exception. Which means that she’s never wrong. She’ll never admit being wrong, and she will never apologize for anything. In her opinion, you (and possibly your spouse) are the only person to blame. Similar situations can be seen in the Agile Team.

To establish her dominance she will expect you to please her. That would require you to appear at every family event, to learn her way of cooking, cleaning and just about everything else under the sun (because her way is clearly better). And, if you fail to do any of those, you are doomed! and she has a right to complain about you to anyone who’ll listen. Similarly with the Agile Team, the Manager does exactly the same and the escalation goes to the senior leaders.

If you are still not kneeling to her will, she will move on to heavier artillery. She will start a smear campaign in her community, trying to turn everyone against you. If she succeeds, those people will start putting pressure on your husband to leave you, saying that they’re just “worried about him” and they “want him to be happy.” Similar things can be found with the Agile Team, where Manager will be doing exactly like this and eventually the husband/scrum team member may leave.

Don’t try to mediate your son’s marital disputes. Let them solve their own problem. In Agile team, let the team members solve it, managers don’t have to jump into all these to become an hero. Managers are already heroes, now it’s time for the team to become one.

Don’t rearrange your daughter-in-law’s house. Clearly the coffee mugs should be stored in the cabinet over the coffee maker. Any idiot can see that. But it’s not the Mother-in-law’s kitchen. So, Mothers-in-law don’t decide where the coffee mugs go. In an Agile team, the team decides everything with the help of PO and SM.

  1. Fold daughter-in-law’s laundry without her permission,
  2. Buy clothes for daughter-in-law that only mothers-in-law would wear,
  3. Think daughter-in-law is perfect,
  4. Enter daughter-in-law’s bedroom without knocking,
  5. Offer unsolicited advice,
  6. Show up unannounced,
  7. Criticize daughter-in-law’s cooking.

All these activities can be mapped to Agile team context where Managers are getting into team comfort zone and spoiling the self-organized culture.

Many of the items on the list are considered faux pas in any situation. They are a hundred times more egregious when put in the context of a mother-in-law – Manager)/daughter-in-law (SM/PO) relationship. 

How to Manage her, or Managers

What Scrum Masters can do for the Agile team ?

a) Respect her different viewpoints. Even if you don’t agree with what she has to say, listen to your mother-in-law. Don’t immediately write off what she has to say. Hear her out (even if you feel it’s ridiculous) and let her know you’re listening. You don’t have to agree to anything.

Respond neutrally by saying, “Okay, I’ll consider that” or, “Thanks for your input.”

If she puts you in a difficult position, defer to your spouse. Say, “I don’t want to answer right away. Let me talk to my spouse first.”

b) Use humor. Deflecting criticism, or other awkward interaction with humor can deflate conflicts and put everyone at ease again. Whether the situation seems tense or she’s making things difficult, a little humor can go a long way.

c) Work through your own feelings about your mother-in-law. Are you able to put yourself in her shoes occasionally and see just where some of her so-called interfering or judgmental behavior comes from? She values the person you’re married to, so there must be something good inside her!

 – Keep in mind that whatever your feelings, your mother-in-law remains one of the most important people in your spouse’s life. Be sure it’s not your own untamed jealousy causing problems.

– If your relationship with your mother is strained, or difficult consider whether that is affecting your relationship with your mother-in-law. Remember that they are different people, and you can have a different relationship with each one.

d) Create some ground rules. If you live with your mother-in-law, establish some ground rules for living together. If you know there are things that might cause conflict, talk about them beforehand and make sure everyone understands the rules and why they are in place

e) Make compromises. You and your mother-in-law will inevitably disagree on certain things, especially when living together. Choose your battles and decide what things you can tolerate and what things you need to be firm about

f) Create mutually-agreed boundaries. Both you and your mother-in-law may enjoy having your own space and ways of doing things. Ask your mother-in-law how you might make her comfortable while enforcing your own needs and expectations. As long as your boundaries don’t conflict, try to respect her space and independence.

g) Look for the good she does and praise it. Look for the good things about her, not just the bad. If she’s always cleaning despite you telling her not to, thank her for her care and contribution. Find the positive ways she adds to your life, your partner’s life, and even your kids’ lives. If possible, do this in her presence and be genuine

h) Talk about how she makes you feel. If you’re in conflict with your mother-in-law and it’s not resolving over time, or on its own, it’s time to talk about it. If she tends to criticise your marriage, or your parenting, let her know how this makes you feel. Be kind and honest and tell her what you’d like instead. Aim to find resolutions to your problems.

Author: Chandanlal Patary. 

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