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.
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.
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.
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Perhaps we perceive conflict as a negative thing and there’s no doubt it can be.
But we don’t live in a world where everybody shares the same views and, if things aren’t challenged or debated, then we wouldn’t learn new things or improve on ideas.
Just like stress can sometimes be beneficial, so can some types of conflict. Eustress is a positive reaction to stress that generates a desire to overcome challenges. For instance, some people find that they produce their best work when a deadline is looming – the pressure gets the adrenaline flowing. Team conflicts can also produce positive results; when the conflict centers on important issues it can spark new ideas and generate creativity.
If people feel they can’t disagree or share their opinions, groupthink can occur. This is when people put too much value on team consensus and harmony, and new ideas are stifled. It happens when individuals are afraid to go against what most group members – especially dominant members – think. Some degree of conflict helps teams avoid groupthink and forces them to make choices based on rational decision making.
If there’s too much co-operation, the best ideas never get shared and team effectiveness suffers for the sake of efficiency. However, if there’s too much conflict then productivity suffers.
Conflict is a natural consequence of working as a group and, depending on the type and reason for the conflict, can be an excellent opportunity to help the team mature and develop towards high performance. Within an Agile team it can be used as a learning opportunity and drive the team to better collaboration.
Conflict in an Agile Team
So, if conflict can be a positive or negative thing, depending on why it’s happened and what it’s about, what do you think the possible impacts of conflict are within an Agile team?
The research carried out by Tuckman in 1965 through his team formation model identified that, during the Storming stage, the team’s performance drops. In Agile teams, that means their velocity. However, during the Performing stage their velocity will arguably be at its peak once they’re an autonomous working unit focused on achieving their goals.
Handled poorly, conflict affects things by breaking down teamwork, distracting the team members from delivering the product and providing value to stakeholders. It will eventually result in the team members disengaging themselves from their work and then team morale will suffer.
Spotting the signs
Sometimes you can see the signs of conflict, like an argument between two people, a meeting that turns into a stand-off or when colleagues send angry emails to each other. In other situations, conflict can be more difficult to identify, for example an individual who withdraws from contact with the rest of the team or an increase in absence rates.
But the signs are there if you look for them; things like:
A lack of motivation – perhaps fewer people volunteering to take on new tasks and there’s less input at team meetings;
People making derogatory remarks to each other;
Less social events being organized;
More queries and complaints because individuals aren’t co-operating with each other – perhaps from stakeholders;
Increased sick leave and staff absence – unhappiness can lead to depression and stress; and
Individuals may not be able or willing to resolve a conflict so, as Scrum Master, you need to be vigilant, look for the signs and then manage the situation to achieve a positive outcome.
There’s more information about Tuckman’s model in the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ guide. And more about the positive aspects of conflict in the ‘5 Conflict Resolution Techniques for the Agile Coach’ guide. You’ll find links in the Managing Conflict Resources.
Tony has over 20 years’ experience in Business Development, Business Change, Consulting, and Project/Program Management working with public, private, and third sector organizations.
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