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Socializing a New Member in a Scrum Team

This blog explores the process of incorporating a new team member into a Scrum team through Group Socialization theory and Agile development methodologies.

Finding a Seat on the Bus

Development can be trying at times

As often as individuals enter into groups in everyday life, it is still a strange event for human beings to endure. In the case of game development, an individual developer may find himself or herself outnumbered and in unknown territory, while the development team might struggle to keep its identity intact. In 1982, Richard Moreland and John Levine created a model for this phenomenon. They identified five phases to group socialization: Investigation, Socialization, Maintenance, Resocialization, and Remembrance. Because the majority of a producer’s role requires involvement at the earlier stages of socialization, we will focus on the first two stages of group socialization alone.

Stage 1 - Investigation

Investigation, the first phase of the Moreland and Levine’s model, assumes that the group is actively searching for new members. Investigation is the stage of recruitment, in which the group searches for overlap between its ideals and the ideals of the individual. However, in game development Scrum teams rarely have the power to screen and hire new members. More often than not, management takes on that role so the team can focus on creating content, rather than creating structure and process.

Setting the Foundation

As the producer, we are responsible for preparing a safe transition for the new member and the Scrum team. This first stage of socialization is where the majority of our focus should go.

Teams don't want to On a recent project, one of my teams was about to receive a new member. This particular team had a strong sense of group identity, as evidenced by their daily rituals of beginning and ending each day with a campy joke, and having each member bring some sort of sweet for core hours. Understandably, there was some measure of anxiety about receiving a new member, as the team had already tapped into their collective groove. Furthermore, this new member was arriving from a previously cancelled team, and I didn’t know if they were carrying any emotional or professional baggage from the experience.

A producer laying the foundation

 I first spoke to the group alone, then to the individual alone, and finally to both together. When speaking to the group, I encouraged everyone to express any worries they had about receiving a new member. Before assuring them of anything, I wanted my team to know their concerns were being heard. Sure enough, they expressed the worry that adding a new member might change things for the worse.

After hearing their concerns, I expressed faith in their ability to accept a new member into their ranks. In line with the Agile tenants of personal empowerment and team autonomy, I challenged my team to make this new individual’s healthy transition one of their goals. I wanted my team to see this as a challenge they could choose to face in an effective manner, rather than as something that fate had decided for them.

Speaking with the New Member Alone

My next task was to speak with the new member one on one. Similar to my approach with the team, my goals here were to hear out any concerns that this individual might have, offer my support during the transition, and relate the team’s support as well. More than generally reassuring this individual that “everything would be okay,” I wanted to express the faith I had in the group’s ability to include this individual, as an extension of my prior experience with them.

Only after they had a chance to express their concerns, I did some fact-finding. I wanted to know about the experiences this individual had with their previous team, and how they felt about being cancelled. This was not the focus of our conversation, but I wanted more information for future maintenance of the group’s wellbeing.

Addressing the Whole Team

Finally, I spoke with the individual and the group together. Instead of singling this new member out by focusing heavily on their arrival, I sought to address everyone as I would normally. In my mind, the new individual was already a part of the group. I hoped by expressing this view and operating under this assumption, my team would model my actions.

Stage 2 – Socialization

Moreland and Levine defined the second stage of the group socialization process as Socialization: the time during which the individual tries to change the group, and the group tries to change the individual. On the flip side, the group compromises some of its views to fit with the new individual (“accommodation”), and the individual accepts the group’s norms and values (“assimilation”). This phase has the most potential for pushback from the individual, and for conflict within the group.

Using Scrum to Support Changes

Our Vertical Slice Scrum Board

Ideally, this is where the foundation we laid in the first stage pays off. With both the group and the individual taking ownership of the situation and proactively searching for ways to cooperate, the team prevents many socialization problems before they occur. However, no process is perfect, which is where Agile development and Scrum come in. The flexibility of the Scrum process works well in accounting for task re-allocation and in visually representing increases in man-hours.

On my own team, we accounted for task re-allocation in our Sprint Planning phase of Scrum. Because we gained our new member at the beginning of our Vertical Slice milestone, we had to bring them up to date. We created a two-person task to address this need, in which one of the original team members reviewed each aspect of the game with the new member. Furthermore, our Scrum Board visualized this data. We gained 15 additional man-hours for each sprint (from 60 to 75), and seeing this increase served to increase the team’s appreciation of the new team member in turn.

Conclusion - Embracing the Change

...But conflict is not the only alternative

Without proper preparation, adding a new member to a team can result in internal conflict. Furthermore, changing the group dynamic so dramatically, and doing so without the team’s input conflicts with Agile development’s tenants of personal choice and team autonomy. However, it also relates to a foundational assumption in Agile development: things are always changing, and we must embrace the chaos. As a result, the majority of the producer’s work occurs early on in the socialization process— in preparing a foundation and structure for the new team member to safely and effectively integrate with the group. As with game development, group socialization will never be a wholly predictable process, but it can be more effective through a producer’s preparation and facilitation.


C. Keith, Agile Game Development with Scrum. Upper Saddle River: NJ, Addison-Wesely, 2010.

D. Hellreigel & J. Slocum, Organizational Behavior. Mason: OH, South-Western Cengage Learning, 2008.

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