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How do you handle conflicts between scrum team members with different working styles?

Balancing different working styles within a team can be a challenge, but it’s essential for fostering a collaborative and productive environment. Agile expert John McFadyen provides valuable insights on how to handle these conflicts effectively. Let’s explore strategies to manage the diversity in working styles, focusing on common scenarios such as those between laissez-faire experimenters and detail-oriented perfectionists.

Understanding the Conflict

Different working styles can lead to friction within a team. On one hand, you may have team members who prefer to experiment and iterate quickly, shipping something basic to gather feedback and learn. On the other hand, there are those who favor a more considered approach, preferring to spend more time on planning, design, and testing before releasing anything.

Experimenters vs. Perfectionists

  • Experimenters: These team members prefer to move quickly, trying things out and learning from the results. They value speed and flexibility.
  • Perfectionists: These individuals prefer a slower, more deliberate approach, ensuring all details are covered and risks minimized. They value thoroughness and accuracy.

Establishing a Foundation

To manage these different styles effectively, it’s crucial to establish a strong foundation of team values and working agreements.

Create a Working Agreement

Bring the team together to discuss and agree on how to handle different working styles. This can be done through workshops and regular discussions.

  • Define Values: Identify and agree on core team values that guide how work is approached and conflicts are resolved.
  • Set Working Agreements: Develop agreements on how the team will handle work, balancing speed with thoroughness.

Encourage Open Discussions

Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable discussing their preferred working styles and any concerns they have.

  • Workshops: Conduct workshops to explore different working styles and their benefits.
  • Regular Check-ins: Use regular meetings to discuss how the team is functioning and address any issues.

Finding a Balance

To balance the need for speed with the need for thoroughness, it’s important to understand when each approach is appropriate.

Contextual Decision-Making

Discuss as a team when each working style is best suited to the task at hand. Use the following considerations:

  • Low-Risk Tasks: For tasks with lower risk, where quick feedback is valuable, the experimenter approach may be more appropriate.
  • High-Risk Tasks: For tasks that are critical or high-risk, a more considered approach may be necessary.

Pros and Cons Analysis

Have the team discuss the pros and cons of each approach for different types of work. This helps in understanding the value and limitations of both styles.

  • Experimentation Benefits: Quick feedback, flexibility, and adaptability.
  • Perfectionist Benefits: Thoroughness, risk mitigation, and quality assurance.

Implementing Guardrails

Set clear boundaries and guidelines to help manage the different working styles within the team.

Define When Each Style is Appropriate

Establish criteria for when each working style should be used. This can be part of your product backlog refinement and sprint planning processes.

  • Criteria for Quick Iterations: Low impact, safe to fail, early-stage experimentation.
  • Criteria for Considered Approach: High impact, high risk, critical functionalities.

Develop a Decider Protocol

In situations where the team cannot agree on an approach, have a predefined decision-making protocol in place.

  • Majority Vote: Use simple majority voting to make decisions quickly and keep the team moving forward.
  • Consensus Building: Encourage consensus where possible, but have a fallback decision-making method to avoid stalemates.

Encouraging Flexibility

Encourage team members to occasionally step out of their comfort zones and experience the benefits of the opposite working style.

Cross-Functional Learning

Promote learning and understanding of different working styles within the team.

  • Pairing and Mentorship: Pair experimenters with perfectionists on tasks to foster mutual understanding and skill sharing.
  • Workshops and Training: Provide training sessions that highlight the strengths and applications of both working styles.

Embrace Diversity

Recognize and celebrate the diversity of working styles within your team as a strength rather than a hindrance.

  • Leverage Strengths: Utilize the strengths of both working styles to enhance the team’s overall performance.
  • Adapt and Evolve: Continuously adapt and evolve team practices to incorporate the best aspects of both approaches.

Conclusion: Leveraging Diverse Working Styles

Managing conflicts between different working styles requires clear communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to adapt. By establishing strong team values, creating working agreements, and implementing guardrails, you can harness the strengths of both experimenters and perfectionists. This balanced approach not only minimizes conflicts but also enhances the team’s ability to deliver high-quality outcomes efficiently.


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author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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