Module 2 - The Causes and Impact of Conflict


Managing Conflict in Agile Teams
Causes of Conflict

The course is part of this learning path

Causes of Conflict

Course Description 

This module categorizes some of the common causes of conflict, including cultural bias and semantics, and then investigates how you can recognize the impact of conflict in your team. 

Learning Objectives 

The objectives of this course are to provide you with and understanding of: 

  • The common general causes of conflict and those that relate to Agile teams. 
  • The impact of culture, beliefs and values, cognitive bias and semantics in creating conflict. 
  • The positive and negative aspects of conflict for an Agile team. 
  • The different areas of impact (positive and negative) conflict can have in an Agile team. 
  • The signs that illustrate conflict exists. 

Intended Audience 

The course is aimed at the Agile Scrum Master. However, it’s equally relevant to the Product Owner’s role in the team. 

Prerequisites of the Certifications 

There are no specific pre-requisites to study this course 


We welcome all feedback and suggestions - please contact us at to let us know what you think. 


Let’s start by looking at a few examples that are likely to cause conflict. 


  1. Ollie’s booked the cyber lab for 2 o’clock every day this week. But Sarah has overstayed her allotted time on a couple of days and now Ollie can’t get everything he needs done. 

  1. Three team members have heard different rumors about department restructuring and downsizing. It’s becoming a bit of a hot topic. 

  1. Lauren’s studying for a professional qualification in the evenings. She generally turns up for work very tired and spends time during the day studying. This creates tension in the team because the other team members often have to pick up her slack. 

  1. Alisha’s angry with Jez because he was late submitting his reports. He dismissed her reaction because she isn’t his line manager and he didn’t think it was any of her business. He hadn’t been listening in the meeting when she mentioned she needed his reports to complete her management briefing.  


Nothing too unusual here I guess – and these types of things are likely to cause aggro anywhere. They reflect some of the most common causes of conflict and can be present in any team. 


  1. This one is about competition for resources, like information, money, supplies or access to facilities. 

  1. External factors can be difficult to avoid but will affect moral. Individuals might at first see these things as interesting distractions but they soon become a cause for concern. 

  1. This is a good example of a personal or emotional issue rather than being related to work, and can result from personality clashes. If ignored, these tensions will grow. 

  1. And this is a communication breakdown. The trouble is, if they’re inconvenienced, some people will try and get their own back or complain to other team members. 


Conflict in Agile teams 

The examples we’ve just seen can affect any team. Here are a few examples of the causes of conflict in Agile teams which can affect internal and external stakeholders. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of them. 

  • Vision disagreements 

What the vision is and how it’s communicated to the team. Has it been agreed through consensus? 

  • Feature and story disagreements 

Team members have different ideas about what a story should be, even for the simplest of activities. 

  • Technical disagreements 

The technologies being used and how they integrate. 

  • Process disagreements 

How does the team work together and how are stakeholders involved? 

  • Customer interpretation disagreement 

After a demo to a customer, different opinions in the team about what the customer said. 

  • Personality conflicts 

Different value systems and beliefs about what’s right. 


Categories of conflict 

Here’s a useful framework to categorize the types of conflict as the basis to help you understand and manage the situations you might find yourself in. 


Value Conflicts 

Value conflicts relate to the beliefs people have to give meaning to their lives – their interpretation of what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Different values don’t need to cause conflict – disputes only arise when people try to force their values on others. 


Relationship Conflicts 

Relationship conflicts are caused by strong negative emotions, misperceptions or stereotypes, poor communication or miscommunication, or repetitive negative behaviors. They fuel disputes and lead to an unnecessary escalating spiral of destructive conflict.  

Data Conflicts 

Data conflicts occur when people don’t have the necessary information to make wise decisions, are misinformed, disagree on which datas relevant or interpret information differently. Often these are caused by poor communication.  


Interest Conflicts 

Interest conflicts result from competition over perceived incompatible needs – when one or more of the people believe thatto satisfy their needs, the needs and interests of the other person must be sacrificed. This often relates to an individual’s position or seniority in an organization. 


Structural Conflicts 

Structural conflicts are caused by things outside of the people in dispute, like limited physical resources or authority, geographic constraintstime, and organizational changes. Because the individuals can’t control structural conflicts they can seem like a crisis.  


Cultural bias 

Cultural bias can cause conflict. It’s the process our brain goes through where we tend to judge other things based on our own cultural preferences, or the norms of a particular culture.  


Unconscious biases are those impressions that exist in our unconscious mind and unknowingly inform our opinions of people. 


When we make judgements about people, we all have biases. We’re aware of many of them but sometimes they’re completely subconscious and reflect our cultural and social experiences.  


No matter how unbiased we think we are, these aspects of human nature shape how we interact with people and how we make decisions. Theyre blindspots in our rational decision-making and we’re unaware that they exist. As one famous psycholost, Daniel Kahneman said: “The brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions.” 


We make judgements within seconds of meeting someone, about everything from their competence, their friendliness and even honesty. If we don’t counter these preconceptions, we can make mistakes that jeopordize our working relationships, and hinder teamwork and creativity.  


We live and work in a diverse society. So we must be aware that our subconscious biases can affect how we think and feel about people we come into contact with.     

Can we really argue against the brain being a machine for jumping to conclusions! 



Semantics is about the language we use.  


Have you ever been in a conversation where you think you’re talking about the same thing as somebody else but, because you’re using different language, you’re not quite sure? This often ends up with you ‘agreeing to disagree’. 


It’s only semantics but it winds people up and causes conflict. 


There’s more information about cultural bias in the Backwards Brain Cycle video. It runs for around seven minutes but tells the fascinating story of ‘unlearning’ to ride a bike. You’ll find the link in the Managing Conflict Resources. 

About the Author
Learning Paths

Tony has over 20 years’ experience in Business Development, Business Change, Consulting, and Project/Program Management working with public, private, and third sector organizations.

He has helped organizations to design and create processes and procedures to align ways of working with corporate strategy. A highly motivated and detailed solution provider, utilizing a wide range of methods and frameworks to provide structure whilst promoting creativity and innovation.

As a confident and self-motivated professional with excellent communication skills, Tony is able to bring people together and get them working as a team quickly.

Tony is an Agile and Scrum trainer with a vast knowledge spanning IT Systems, Business Change, Program and Project Management. With excellent presentation skills and a solid background, he ensures that all clients gain maximum benefit from his training. He has successfully guided those new to the industry through their initial training, helped experienced staff as they progress in their careers, and worked at the director level advising on best use and practice, as well as tailoring courses to fulfil the exact needs of clients.