How to Be a Peacemaker on Your Scrum Team

As a scrum master, you are often the peacemaker of your scrum team, tasked with steering the group dynamics toward smoother collaboration. Aligning individual perspectives, reconciling differing opinions, and fostering a healthy professional environment are paramount. When constructive interaction suddenly deviates into destructive conflict, what do you do? This article aims to shed light on this dilemma.

Recognizing the Signs of Conflict

Conflict is not inherently negative. It can indeed be the catalyst for innovation and improvement. But when does it pivot from healthy to harmful? Understanding the difference is critical. So, what signs should you be on the lookout for?

  1. A dramatic shift in team communication: this could manifest as a sudden surge in negative remarks, cross-talk, or people talking past each other.
  2. Rising tension and hostility: This is usually indicated by snide comments, passive-aggressive behaviour, or a generally hostile environment.
  3. Withdrawal of engagement: Team members become less active in discussions, or the team’s overall energy dips significantly.

These telltale signs signal that a conflict may be brewing. But how do you, as the scrum master, navigate these choppy waters? We’ll discuss some key strategies next.

Remember, you’re not just a facilitator but also a mediator. Your role is to restore balance, maintain team cohesiveness, and ensure that differences don’t derail the shared objective.

Setting Clear Expectations for Team Behaviour

Having clear parameters in place for all team members can ascertain a healthy and conducive working environment. It sets the tone for expected behaviour, reduces ambiguities, and discourages destructive conflict. As a Scrum Master, you have a vital role to play in setting expectations and steering the team towards a collaborative and productive setting.

Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities

The first step to establishing clear expectations is to define each team member‘s role and responsibilities comprehensively. Confusion in this area is a common source of tension within Scrum Teams. Use the following strategy to manage this:

  • Draft explicit job descriptions and guidelines for each role within the scrum team and share them with every team member. These should highlight the key duties, responsibilities, and mechanisms to deal with possible misunderstandings.

Instill a Culture of Respect and Empathy

Culture is a critical component of any team’s identity. Instilling a culture of respect and empathy can be a significant deterrent to destructive conflict.

Remember, it’s not all about rules and guidelines; it’s equally about crafting an environment where everyone feels valued and understood.

  • Encourage each team member to understand and acknowledge others’ perspectives. Promote active listening and constructive feedback as a team norm.
  • Establish open communication as a key expectation. Make sure everyone knows they can share their thoughts, ideas, and worries openly and honestly without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Set Conflict Resolution Guidelines

Despite best efforts, conflicts may arise. Having a clear roadmap for conflict resolution can be invaluable in such situations.

Type of ConflictExampleResolution Strategy
Role ClarificationA developer and tester both believe they’re responsible for coding a feature.Refer to clearly documented roles and responsibilities for resolution.
Expectation MismatchA team member is consistently late for daily scrum meeting.Match against agreed expectations and address with the concerned member.
Communication BreakdownA blocker hasn’t been communicated effectively, affecting productivity.Hold a team meeting to address the communication lapse and iterate on expectations.

Serving as a peacemaker in a scrum team calls for being proactive and courteous, fostering open communication, and creating an environment where conflicts are resolved effectively rather than avoided.

Addressing Conflict Early: Prevention is Better Than Cure

If I may borrow from medical wisdom to describe conflict management – the administration of vaccines precedes the treatment of disease symptoms. Similarly, in the Scrum world, addressing conflict in its infancy stage helps prevent escalating tensions that can bring your project to a grinding halt. Here’s how you can achieve this.

Engage in Active Listening

First and foremost, being a good listener lays the foundation for effective conflict resolution. What does active listening involve, you might wonder? It encompasses attentiveness, patience, displaying interest in what’s being said, and not interrupting when someone else is speaking. As a Scrum Master, you must listen carefully to your team members’ ideas, suggestions, and grievances. Often, problems can be caught early and addressed when someone simply takes the time to listen.

Strive for Open Communication

Imagine two team members are quietly nursing a grudge against each other while you are oblivious to the smouldering fire. Suddenly, sparks fly in a crucial team meeting, leaving everyone baffled. Sounds familiar? These situations can be easily avoided by creating an open communication platform where team members can discuss their issues kindly and professionally.

Regularly Scheduled Discussions: It’s beneficial to set aside regular times for open forums or team discussions, where everyone can express concerns, issues, or ideas.

Cultivate a Non-Defensive Atmosphere: Ensure the team feels comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of retaliation or humiliation. A non-defensive atmosphere encourages transparency and honesty, essential ingredients for preventing conflicts.

Prompt Action and Mediation

As they say, ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’ Don’t let the conflict fester. Once you identify a problem, immediate action is necessary. It might involve mediating between disputing parties or setting a platform for them to resolve their differences. The difference between an uncontrolled brushfire and a contained flame lies solely in when and how it was addressed.

When it comes to conflict resolution, being proactive is far more effective than being reactive. It’s not just about identifying potential conflict – it’s also about establishing systems that encourage open communication and promote quick resolution of issues.

Building Resilience: Bouncing Back from Conflict

Building resilience is about accepting conflict as an inevitable part of professional interactions and learning how to bounce back from it. As a Scrum Master, it is your task to make your team capable of withstanding disagreements and conflicts, turning them into opportunities for growth and innovation. Here are some strategies that might help you with this:

Establish a Safe Environment

Create a safe environment where everyone understands that it’s okay to disagree and make mistakes. Often, conflict itself is not destructive, but rather the fear of conflict. When team members feel safe, they are more likely to share their ideas openly, knowing that differing viewpoints will be heard and respected.

Maintain an Optimistic Mindset

An optimistic perspective allows you to view conflict as a chance to uncover hidden problems and devise innovative solutions. Encourage optimism within your team by focusing on solutions rather than blaming teammates for the conflict. Highlight each setback as a stepping stone towards improvement.

Encourage Personal Responsibility

Instil within your team the concept of personal responsibility. Conflict often arises when individuals fail to consider how their actions might affect the team. Encourage team members to understand that their actions and decisions contribute directly to the team’s harmony and productivity. Convey that it’s not merely about who is right but, more importantly, what is right for the team.

Ensure Continual Learning and Improvement

Use every conflict as a learning experience. Post-conflict analysis can yield valuable insights into how to prevent similar conflicts in the future, nurturing a culture of continuous improvement. The lessons learned can be incorporated into team norms and practices, strengthening the team’s approach to handling disagreements.

Building resilience involves more than minimising the impact of conflict; it’s about leveraging conflict for positive change. Resilience doesn’t develop overnight, and it may require a profound shift in team mentality and working practices. However, the results of cultivating resilience are compelling, resulting in increased employee satisfaction and amplified team performance.

Seeking Feedback and Learning from Conflict Situations

The quest to become a peacemaker within your Scrum team is not merely about dousing flames of conflict as they arise. It’s about mining those very situations for nuggets of insight that can turn your team into a stronger, more cohesive unit. Seeking feedback and learning from conflict situations–seeing them not as hurdles to jump over but rather as opportunities to grow–is important.

Feedback is a two-way street; it’s not solely for the team to benefit from your insights as a Scrum Master. It is equally vital for you to learn from them. So, how can we turn these difficult situations into learning experiences for everyone involved?

Seek and Give Constructive Feedback

After a conflict has been resolved, seek feedback from the involved parties.

Ask what they could have done differently or better.

Often, people caught up in a conflict may not have the chance to reflect on it until it is all over. This is your opportunity as a Scrum Master to help them make sense of what happened. Likewise, provide your own feedback, but ensure it is constructive. ‘Criticism’ should not become ‘criticise’; balance praise with advice on areas for improvement.

Reflect on the Situation as a Team

Take time as a team to reflect on conflicts. This could be part of your regular sprint retrospectives. This is an opportunity to identify the root causes of conflict, explore the dynamics, and how effectively the crisis was handled. As the old saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” By providing a forum for discussion, you provide an opportunity for collective learning.

Document Lessons Learned

Document the insights gleaned from reflecting on conflicts. Create a ‘lessons learned’ log or similar guide that encapsulates communal wisdom and provides direction for future problems. Most importantly, ensure that this documentation is accessible and visible to the team.

Embracing the Peacemaker Role: A Summary on Conflict Management in Scrum Teams

In essence, the ebb and flow of disagreements is a natural facet of human exchanges. There’s wisdom in the saying, “A smooth sea never made a good sailor.” Thus, with frictions arise fresh prospects for learning and evolving. Grab these chances and continually endeavour to refine. The conciliator in you is what will navigate your crew through the tumultuous tides of discord, and it is this same peace-bringer who will aid them in honing their sailing adeptness.

Looking back, it’s clear that conflict is an inevitable aspect of working within a Scrum team—it’s as natural as the tide. However, the role of a Scrum master shines brightest in these moments of friction. They serve as an impartial beacon, guiding the team safely through the troubling waters of dissent. They foster understanding, encourage open communication, mitigate conflict, and promote resilience, transforming these moments of unease into opportunities for growth and enlightenment.

The Scrum Master isn’t merely a supervisor but a mentor who helps you comprehend conflict as a catapult towards progress rather than a hindrance. By actively traversing discord, re-establishing team norms, and underpinning empathy and personal accountability, Scrum Masters mould an environment conducive to constructive disagreement and, hence, constructive solutions.

Reducing the complexity, we may perceive a Scrum Master as the harmonising force within a team, dousing the confrontations and lighting the path towards a resolution. Agile teams, consequently, shine as cohorts of peaceful warriors – collaborating, discussing, growing and creating impact without succumbing to antagonism. The crux of the matter is not the absence of conflict but the management and productive steering of it, a task which a Scrum Master is adeptly equipped to handle.

It’s important to remember, however, that skills like these aren’t acquired overnight. It is a continuous journey of learning and improvement. By seeking resources, engaging in the Scrum Masters Community for support, and practising active listening and empathy, one can gradually hone and perfect this craft.

On the back of it all, it’s evident that the key to fostering a harmonious, resilient and productive team lies in your hands, dear Scrum Master. Lean into conflict. Open your ears and your hearts into empathetic listening. Seek not to cultivate the strongest argument but rather the best resolution. And remember, every storm you conquer strengthens not just your ship but also your crew.

Are you ready to navigate these rough seas and serve as your team’s guiding light? Remember, a smooth sea never made a good sailor. So may it be in your team’s hurdles that you find their potential for growth and improvement. It’s time to embrace your role, take the helm, and lead your team towards progress and success.

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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