5 conflict resolution techniques for agile teams

We all want our agile teams to work together with minimal friction, but no matter how hard we try, issues pop up occasionally. We can’t all share the same mind (and it would be boring if we did), making conflict within a team inevitable.

As Scrum Master, you’re responsible for guiding the team’s direction and keeping watch for any potential conflicts or issues that may arise. The way you handle a conflict will dictate how that conflict affects the entire team, so you need to be prepared to handle the situation quickly and effectively.

Let’s dive right in and check out some great agile conflict resolution techniques you can use with your team.

5 conflict resolution techniques to use in your agile team

The key to conflict resolution is to look less towards solutions and more towards tackling the root cause. Not every workplace conflict is based on work issues, and not every disagreement is a conflict. It’s essential to keep that in mind to successfully mediate and resolve conflicts.

Recognize the difference between conflicts and disputes

Some see conflicts and disputes as interchangeable phrases, but they represent two different levels of discourse.

Disputes are short-term disagreements that you can generally resolve. They are usually caused by issues that are negotiable and can sometimes play themselves out without intervention.

It can be helpful to have an objective party involved to help guide the decision-making process and resolve a dispute. This could involve a brainstorming session, pro and con sessions, or another decision-making tool you feel is appropriate.

Conflicts are more severe and require a more thought-out approach. Conflicts tend to stem from differences in personal values or worldviews and often involve non-negotiable issues.

As conflicts can become highly disruptive and cause other team members to feel uncomfortable, the most straightforward course of action can be to separate whoever is involved in the conflict. Keeping the conflicting parties in close proximity will only serve to increase tension and can harm the entire project.

There are a series of questions you can ask to help identify if you’re dealing with a conflict or a dispute:

  • Is the disagreement over a particular outcome or approach?
  • Is there a personal investment involved on either side when it comes to the results of the conflict?
  • Is the language they are using objective, or are their personal beliefs involved?
  • Is there a conflict on a personal level involved?
  • Is there a power struggle or a mismatch between goals at the root of the conflict?

The answers to these questions will help you understand the issue and decide if intervention is required.

Personal Coaching

As Scrum Master, part of your role is to coach your team and build up their skillset. A substantial part of the coaching process is listening to and understanding the thoughts and feelings of your team members and incorporating them into their development.

This can also help when resolving conflicts.

Not every conflict stems from work, though a work issue may be the trigger point for a conflict to arise. If you notice conflict starting to develop, it’s always a good idea to take those involved to one side for a one-on-one coaching session.

During the session, you can speak to the individual employee on a personal level and try to identify the root cause of the issue. You can then use what you learned in the coaching session to help avoid further conflict.

It’s imperative to keep your personal beliefs in check when running these coaching sessions. There may still be outside factors which the individual does not wish to share with you, and ignoring that possibility may lead to further conflict.

Use “I” Statements

The statement “I think I speak for everyone” has never been true, yet there’s always someone in a group who feels they need to say it.

If you’re bringing the team together to try and resolve a conflict, you need to make sure everyone in the team gets their say. These situations aren’t about picking a winner and a loser. It’s about making sure the entire team gets a result that works for them.

It’s important to remember that everyone wants to feel heard, especially in difficult situations. Trying to resolve issues by using language that speaks for everyone only serves to hamper other team members’ opinions, which can lead to further conflict. Using “I” statements can help promote an atmosphere that facilitates conversation instead of soapboxing.

But remember, some people on the team might not feel confident speaking their minds. This can be something to address within one-on-one coaching sessions, but you must offer a safe, open space for everyone in the short term.

Re-frame the conflict

Now that you’ve set the tone and everyone is communicating with each other, it can be helpful to look at the conflict in a different light. After all, any conflict between team members can be used as an educational tool to further their personal development.

Instead of viewing the conflict as an issue for individual team members, try to frame it as a common issue shared between the team. This can help remove any bias towards the individuals involved and allow everyone to look at the problem holistically.

During re-framing, neither party should feel like their thoughts and feelings are being minimized. Everyone’s opinion is perfectly valid, and you need to reinforce that point during mediation. Re-framing the conflict is simply a tool to help everyone on the team take an objective stance and understand the root cause of the problem.

It’s important to note that re-framing the conflict isn’t a method that looks for solutions. It’s purely about finding new ways to think about the issue.

Start looking at solutions

Now you have identified the root cause of an issue and re-framed it for the entire team to understand. It’s time to start looking at resolving the conflict. Try to treat the solution stage as you would any other decision, rather than an issue.

At this stage, it’s helpful to look at potential solutions from a business perspective, asking questions such as:

  • Is this solution cost-effective?
  • Will this solution fit with current time constraints?
  • How easy will it be to implement the solution?
  • Will it add value to the overall product?

From here, you can run a brainstorming session or use another ideation tool you like. You could even involve team members or stakeholders to ensure the solution stays objective.

By brainstorming a solution, the conflict is transformed from a potential disruption into a positive experience for everyone. They can learn from it, improve collaboration skills, and build towards a more emphatic outlook that will help diffuse later conflicts.

Brainstorming solutions to conflict also benefits the overall project. The brainstorming session is bound to bring in some unique and creative ideas that you might not have considered. This can lead to great ideas that add meaningful value to the product.

Turn conflict into value

Conflict doesn’t have to be a purely negative experience. A great Scrum Master will look at conflict as a potential learning experience and an opportunity to improve the product they’re developing.

Using the above tips and EasyRetro’s great range of ideation tools, like our free online brainstorming tool, you can effectively diffuse conflict and turn it into real value!

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