When Conflict Emerges, SCRUMstudy Helps You Manage

January 28, 2016

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

-John Lydgate


In professional sports, whether you’re a benchwarmer or a superstar, when you become a “cancer” it is more likely than not that your days on that team (or in that sport) are numbered. “Cancer” is a label reserved for someone whose behavioral issues metastasize to other areas of the locker room, often triggering team-wide dissension. In these cases, teams routinely trade or release volatile players (as gifted as they may be) for restored harmony in the locker room.

The corporate world is not immune to the workplace “cancer” or occasional discord among colleagues. But organizations applying the Scrum framework encourage an open environment and dialogue. Conflicts among Scrum Team members are generally resolved independently, with little or no involvement from management or others outside of the Scrum Team. In other words, a “cancer” often goes into remission.

Conflict can be healthy when it promotes team discussions and encourages debates because this usually results in benefits for the project and respective team members. It is therefore important that the resolution of conflicts be encouraged, promoting an open environment where team members feel welcome to express their opinions and concerns with each other and about the project, and ultimately agree on what is to be delivered and how the work in each Sprint will be performed.

Conflict management techniques are used by team members to manage any conflicts that arise during a Scrum project. Sources of conflict evolve primarily due to schedules, priorities, resources, reporting hierarchy, technical issues, procedures, personality and costs. Usually there are four approaches to managing conflict in an organization applying Scrum processes: Win-Win, Lose-Win, Lose-Lose and Win-Lose. Let’s take a closer look at each with these discussions from A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK).

Win-Win: It’s usually best for team members to face problems directly with a cooperative attitude and an open dialogue to work through any disagreements to reach consensus. Organizations implementing Scrum should promote an environment where employees feel comfortable to openly discuss and confront problems or issues and work through them to reach Win-Win outcomes. SCRUMstudy endorses this approach as the optimal way to manage conflict, and suggests teams regularly resolve to achieve this outcome.

Lose-Win: Some team members may at times feel their contributions are not being recognized or valued by others or that they are not being treated equally. This may lead them to withdraw from contributing effectively to the project and agree to whatever they are being told to do, even if they are in disagreement. This situation may happen if there are members in the team (including managers) who use an authoritative or directive style of issuing orders or do not treat all team members equally. This approach is not a desired conflict management technique for Scrum projects, since active contribution of every member of the team is mandatory for successful completion of each Sprint. The Scrum Master should encourage the involvement of any team members who appear to be withdrawing from conflict situations.

Lose-Lose: In conflict situations, team members may attempt to bargain or search for solutions that bring only a partial degree or temporary measure of satisfaction to the parties in a dispute. This situation could happen in Scrum Teams where team members try to negotiate for suboptimal solutions to a problem. This approach typically involves some “give and take” to satisfy every team member—instead of trying to solve the actual problem. The Scrum Team should be careful to ensure that team members do not adopt a Lose-Lose mentality.

Win-Lose: At times, a Scrum Master or another influential team member may believe he is a de facto leader or manager and try to exert his viewpoint at the expense of the viewpoints of others. This approach is not recommended when working on Scrum projects because Scrum Teams are by nature self-organized and empowered, with no one person having true authority over another team member. Although the Scrum Team may include persons with different levels of experience and expertise, every member is treated equally and no person has the authority to be the primary decision maker.

With any team, conflict is bound to occur once in a while. You can’t please everyone every moment of your life. What is important is the manner in which conflict is managed. Of the four typical approaches to managing conflict, only one involves a win-win scenario. In order for such a scenario to be achieved, organizations implementing Scrum should promote an environment where employees feel comfortable to openly discuss and confront problems or issues and work through them with cooperative attitudes. Oftentimes, such treatment even leads to a cure for “cancers.”

Find more interesting articles about Scrum and Agile at www.scrumstudy.com


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