Managing Conflict in Agile Teams
The course is part of this learning path
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.
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.
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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How can a Scrum Master manage or mitigate conflict?
There are lots of different ways a Scrum Master can help to resolve conflict. Some of the ones that immediately come to mind are:
Promoting the Agile and Scrum values through meetings and events;
Encouraging transparency in Scrum retrospectives;
Promoting honesty and transparency with the sprint backlog tasks; and
Promoting collective ownership.
A useful way of identifying the Scrum Master’s role is by looking at the different stages of Tuckman’s team formation model.
During the forming stage you outline the mission, look for agreement on team roles, and establish rules and guidelines for decision-making;
Then, in the storming stage, you facilitate discussion and ensure common understanding of the things that have been agreed.
In the norming stage you encourage norming processes, support and coach the individuals in the team and celebrate success; then
During the performing stage you encourage high performance, facilitate communication and continue to celebrate success.
You can see here that there are quite a few things you can do as a Scrum Master to create effective teams who have transparent communication and work towards a common goal. The activities at each stage will help to avoid conflict or, where it does arise, provide the basis to resolve it.
A coaching approach
A Scrum Master should have strong relationships with the individuals in the team and this can effectively be supported by adopting a coaching style with them. This means:
Listening to them to understand their perspective on things;
Being calm when you engage with them – building mutual respect and always being constructive;
Separating the person from the problem;
Listening for the root cause of an issue and then taking appropriate action; and
Inviting ideas from them to reach the solution.
Here’s a 4-step approach for coaching a team through a conflict resolution process.
[Step 1- Set the scene:] First you need to identify the recurrent conflict patterns within the team. Help them understand that conflict is a common problem and can be solved using an assertive, rather than an aggressive, approach.
[Step 2- Gather Information:] Then, start gathering information by listening to their point of view and respecting their decisions. This will help you understand the conflict.
[Step 3- Brainstorm to find a solution:] After that, arrange spontaneous group discussions to share their ideas and start to define the steps towards a resolution.
[Step 4- Confer a solution:] And finally, find ways of removing hurdles and ensuring everyone’s OK with the solution. Make sure you follow the ‘be calm, be patient and have respect’ principle.
Mediating a dispute
Mediating a dispute is not as easy as getting everybody to agree on an outcome. In a team conflict, the sides often have a firm position and may be quite emotional. You need to mediate to get everybody to a solution building mindset.
First you need to work out if it’s a dispute – a short-term issue which is relatively easy to resolve – or a conflict, which is usually more intense and destructive. Questions like these will help you check if an intervention is viable:
Do they use a language of fundamental values or moral beliefs?
Do they express a personal judgment against each other as part of the conflict?
Is there a power struggle or a mismatch of goals at the root of the conflict?
Then, take a coaching stance – make sure that you fully participate in the conversation but remain detached from any specific outcome. This will help you gain awareness of the whole situation whilst supporting the individuals to move things forward.
Techniques you can use to get your head into a coaching stance include developing a physical and mental routine to create a coaching position; acknowledging your existing bias towards any position, outcome or individual at the start; and checking your attitude to make sure you focus on driving the process and serving all the people involved.
Encourage the use of ‘I’ statements to express points of view and help the individuals take ownership of their position.
Once the parties have moved away from a win-lose mentality you can start building a solution. Here you need to define the conflict so everybody sees it as a common problem by re-framing the issue so it reflects everybody’s needs, goals and perceptions.
Then, through solution-focused conversations, define what the situation, environment or process looks like once the issue has been removed. This will help the parties move from confrontation to collaboration.
Once you’ve worked with everybody to define the characteristics or constraints of the solution, you can start building it using whatever technique works best – like brainstorming or ideation. The goal is for the team to validate potential solutions against the required characteristics, rather than looking at them as competing solutions that they need to defend.
Managing conflict in agile teams
A foundation of agile practices is being pre-emptive. This doesn’t mean you should avoid conflict but you should try and make it unnecessary. Agile is about generating a collaborative and responsive atmosphere for teams to operate in.
Conflict can be predicted by planning and foresight, and can be achieved in agile teams by:
Sharing the vision and mission so that objectives and outcomes are clearly understood;
Creating a team manifesto that describes the intentions, motives, and methods the team works through;
Making sure feedback and retrospectives are a natural part of the daily process; and
Working in an environment of trust.
Before we finish, a brief word on using emotional intelligence to help managing conflict.
Emotional intelligence relates to many of the points we’ve looked at and can be described as:
‘…the ability to help others through emotional or tense situations, tactfully bringing disagreements into the open, and defining solutions that everyone can endorse.’
Leaders who take time to understand different perspectives, work towards finding common ground on which everyone can agree. They acknowledge the views of all sides, while redirecting the energy towards a shared ideal or an agreeable resolution.
It's about managing your emotions, recognizing different viewpoints, being adaptable, showing empathy and being aware of the overall organization dynamics.
There’s more information about Tuckman’s model in the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ guide and more about conflict resolution techniques and managing conflict with emotional intelligence in other guides. 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.
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.