“Thick air”: Insights from the workshop conflict management
“Competence in conflict management” is required in many job postings for Scrum Masters. Regardless of whether it is the unspoken “elephant in the room” or open escalation threatens: Without question, dealing with unpleasant situations in the team is an important task that every Scrum Master should be able to cope with. Not so easy, because conflicts have many faces, from latent antipathy and frustration to anger and fear to verbal aggression or classic “bullying”.
Conflict is human
An agile corporate culture aims for harmonious teams — an ideal state that does not come about by itself, but usually requires intensive, continuous work on human relationships and communication in the team.
Especially in the introductory phase of agile methods, there are potential sources of conflict that need to be actively managed. Teams are regrouped, new forms of leadership and collaboration first have to be understood and learned, and points of friction inevitably arise at the interfaces between skeptics and advocates of the new corporate culture.
Conflicts as an opportunity for improvement
It is therefore important that Scrum Masters, in their moderator and mediator role, recognize, analyze and tackle conflicts early on. It is not about avoiding conflict at any price! Conflicts can also be valuable because they make existing problems aware and create pressure to change. Undetected and untreated, however, they disrupt collaboration, tie up energy and thus impair team performance.
Toolbox conflict management
At the same time, Scrum Masters have to manage the balancing act between neutrality and participation — with an analytical view, a large toolbox of suitable methods, and their sovereign selection and application. The management of team conflicts is therefore part of the champions league of moderation.
Important competencies for Scrum Masters include:
- Know and recognize conflict types, triggers, and escalation levels
- Giving & receiving feedback (enabling an open feedback culture)
- Moderation and mediation techniques
- Active listening and conversational skills
As mentioned in my article on the “Experience agility” workshop, we are in the process of setting up a differentiated workshop program for one of our customers together with the HR department. An important focus is on enabling Scrum Masters to deal with conflict and feedback.
As part of the “Conflict Management” workshop series, we offer practical exercises every three weeks to establish a feedback culture and train effective solution tools for conflicts. In detailed discussions, we identify needs and problems, exchange knowledge and experience between the teams, coach the Scrum Masters and provide concrete practical reflection.
One of the goals is the gradual development of a common store of knowledge by working on the clustered desired topics in small groups and then presenting them to the larger group.
Excerpt of the trained methods
- “Scale question” (self-reflection of the Scrum Master)
- “I appreciate you, I wish…” (supports constructive and goal-oriented feedback)
- “Recognize levels of conflict” (supports early diagnosis and prepares conflict moderation)
- “Spot the Elephant” (identifying and naming unspoken, serious problems, e.g. in retrospectives)
- “Tuckman Cycle” (status overview of team collaboration, e.g. in retrospectives or when teams are recomposed)
- “Strengths test” (identifying and building on the strengths of individuals and teams, e.g. in retrospectives or before the team is formed)
- “Team resource profile” (clarification of roles and early detection of conflicts, e.g. in retrospectives or when reassembling a team)
A systemic approach to the analysis of individual and team situations