Module 3 - Managing Conflict


Managing Conflict in Agile Teams
The 5 Whys

The course is part of this learning path

Conflict Management Strategies

Course Description 

This module is about managing conflict. It outlines a management strategy for dealing with constructive and destructive conflict and introduces a range of troubleshooting methods to identify the cause of conflict, including the ‘5 Whys’ technique. After that, it provides guidance on the techniques that you can use to resolve conflict situations.   

Learning Objectives 

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

  • The different strategies for managing conflict. 
  • The management behaviors which support effect conflict resolution. 
  • The different methods which can be used to deal with conflict. 
  • The analysis techniques which can be used to troubleshoot and solve non-complex problems.  
  • The Scrum Master’s role in managing conflict. 
  • The techniques a Scrum Master can use to manage conflict within Agile teams. 
  • The importance of emotional intelligence in effectively addressing conflict situations. 

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. 


Facing a conflict 

What do you do when you’re faced with a conflict situation? 


Do you avoid it and hope it just blows over? Do you rub your hands and get stuck in – after all it breaks up the day and you quite enjoy it? Or do you do something in between and try to sort it out – which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t? 


We’ve all got a default approach to handling conflict which will combine some degree of co-operation and assertiveness. As Scrum Master, you have a responsibility to make sure that, whatever approach you take, you’re impartial and show respect for everybody involved.  


Experts agree that it’s best to address conflict sooner rather than later to stop it getting to a point where it affects team performance.  


Conflict resolution strategies 

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann have developed five strategies that can be used to handle conflict, based on two dimensions of assertiveness and cooperativeness. People react differently to conflict or conflicting interests and display a different degree of assertiveness and cooperativeness depending on how much they focus on their own concerns and how much they focus on satisfying the other person’s needs. 


In any conflict situation, an individual might respond by competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating or compromising. 

  • Competing is the ‘win-lose’ approach – it’s about assertiveness, not co-operation. This approach doesn’t intuitively feel right but can be effective when quick, decisive action is needed or the decision will be unpopular; 

  • Avoiding is only really appropriate when the pain of confrontation exceeds the potential benefit of resolving it. If the conflict doesn’t significantly interfere with team performance and you want the team members to handle it informally, on their own, it may be appropriate to ignore it; 

  • Collaborating is a potentially ‘win-win’ approach. It works for high-stakes conflicts where getting the right resolution is too important for the issues not to be carefully examined. It can involve negotiation and mediation which are most effective when both parties have something to gain and something to lose, so they allow each other to make a contribution to co-create a shared solution they can each support; 

  • Accommodating is when you give in to the demands of the other person – you’re co-operating but not being assertive. This might seem like you’re being a ‘doormat’ but it’s the right strategy when you actually know you’re wrong or if you want to let the other person ‘win’ because you don’t feel that strongly about the outcome. However, you shouldn’t accommodate a resolution just because you want an easy life; 

  • And compromising is the ‘lose-lose’ approach where neither party really gets what they want. The best outcome here generally ‘splits the difference’ so it’s perceived as being fair, even if no one is particularly happy with the final outcome. 


Whatever resolution strategy you use, it should be selected as the most appropriate one for the situation you’re faced with. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about getting to a resolution that’s fair and enables the team to work to their optimum performance level as soon as possible. 


Constructive and destructive conflict 

As we know, conflict isn’t necessarily negative and is a by-product of democratic communication. So, it’s going to happen and you’ll need to face up to it. Knowing that it’s normal and expected will help everyone in the team. 


Working out whether a conflict is constructive or destructive will help you work out your strategy for approaching it. 


Personal conflict can involve name-calling, talking in a bad way about people, and focusing on winning an argument rather than solving a problem. This kind of conflict is destructive and needs to be addressed immediately, before it harms the group. 


Constructive conflict is about solving a problem. It often involves different ways of seeing the issue, and leads to innovation and collaboration. Conflict about processes and ideas can be constructive. 


Here are some tips to remember when you’re faced with a conflict situation: 

  • Try not to resolve the conflict with an executive decision – it might be quick but it could increase personal conflict; 

  • If the situation needs to be escalated to someone else for resolution, make sure the parties do it together. That way they’ll all get heard and will be more likely to accept the decision;  

  • Have a method for making difficult decisions and share that approach with the team – it will make the process transparent and easier for everybody, and help build trust; 

  • Share as much information as you appropriately can – accepting this might be difficult if personal safety and security is an issue. Discussing risks together contributes to an open environment; 

  • To be effective, people need to feel like they’re working for the best interests of the group and the team’s objective. Mistrust leads to destructive conflict and can destroy a group. You need to assume the people in the team share your goals and trust that there’s enough goodwill to address any conflicts that arise; 

  • Talk about your policy for dealing with conflict to make sure people understand it and see it as important. Discuss it regularly and display it on the wall – do anything you can to make the guidelines normal; and 

  • Don’t expect the resolution process to be easy or quick – expect emotions, difficult discussions and disagreement. So, make sure you’re prepared, tell yourself that disagreement doesn’t mean disrespect, and remind yourself that you’re all trying to solve a problem together. 


Remember, democratic communication means conflict – and that’s the way it should be. 


There’s more information about the common causes of conflict, recognizing conflict and overcoming conflict in the ‘Common Causes of Conflict’ and ‘How to Recognize and Deal with Conflict’ guides. You’ll find links 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.