Unsolvable Conflict on Agile Teams

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can live with and support this idea. (This is the definition of consensus).

Two fingers: I have reservations about this and would have trouble supporting it.

One finger: I have grave misgivings. I can neither live with it nor support it.

Then, everyone looks around to see if anyone is holding up one or two fingers. If so, these are the people the team needs to hear. Because everyone "votes" from their conscience at the same time, team members are not swayed by others votes. In this way, "Fist of Five" often surfaces unheard voices and helps neutralize conversation dominators.

Consent check and consensus check are two ways to ensure that team members are invited to speak, the team is called to listen and overall understanding of one another - and with it, team positivity - increases.

Use a shared vision

When coaching business partners, activities that help surface "the dream behind the conflict" are often employed to improve the working relationship. [4] In "the dream behind the conflict", the partners are coached through an activity that recalls to mind the reasons why the partnership was a good idea in the first place. In so doing, they remember the excitement of the "dream" and regain the big picture view of the partnership's purpose. With this big picture purpose in mind, they often see that the unsolvable conflict is secondary, maybe even unimportant .

On Agile teams, we usually don't have the luxury of a voluntary relationship forged in mutual interest to fall back on in times of conflict. Teams are most often created by managers and announced to the team members with no "dream" of what the team can be together, short of delivering some product. Even so, that doesn't mean the team must remain devoid of a shared dream.

A shared dream, or vision, gives teams a beacon they can use to light the way back to their best selves and their best expression as a team when things are rocky. It is a tool to navigate unsolvable conflict. This vision is not a laundry list of the business goals the team must satisfy to be deemed successful. It is about something bigger than that: it's about them. In coaching terms, this vision is called the "Big A" Agenda. [5] It is a compelling statement that sums up what the team has set out to be together. Here are some:

"We will successfully improve the customer experience through collaboration, passion for what's right and out of the box creativity, all the while playing to each other's strengths and downplaying our weaknesses."

"In 2009, we will be focused and will hold our customers and external partners to the focus we all agree to. Our belief is that focus will improve our results and the way we work together."

"We will deliver a website that draws in new customers, and we will do so by becoming the best cross-department team the company has ever seen. We want people to ask, ‘How did they do that?'"

When unsolvable conflict arises, pointing to the vision statement hanging on the wall of the team room may be all that's needed to call the team back to their shared dream. If that doesn't work, try gently asking questions such as, "Does this vision of us as a team still apply?" "What is the meaning of your current conflict in the context of this vision?" "Having recalled the vision, does the conflict even matter?" Sometimes the conflict will fall away in sheepish looks and shared laughter. Sometimes a conversation will ensue, perhaps releasing the conflict in

About the author

Lyssa Adkins's picture Lyssa Adkins

Since 2004 Lyssa Adkins has taught Scrum to hundreds of students, coached many agile teams, and served as master coach to many apprentice coaches. In both one-on-one settings and small groups, she enjoys a front-row seat as remarkable agile coaches emerge and go on to entice the very best from the teams they help. Prior to agile, Lyssa had more than fifteen years of expertise leading project teams and groups of project managers, yet nothing prepared her for the power of agile done simply and well. Lyssa authored Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition.

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