As an Agile coach, conflict is often part of my daily regimen. ‘Scrum will never work here,' ‘Product Owners don’t understand our technology,’ or ‘I wanted to be the Scrum Master’ are some of the conversations I have been involved in. I coach teams to CRUSH their conflicts when they occur so that the team can move on and continue to strive towards becoming the high-performing team that they aspire to be.
The CRUSH conflict resolution technique involves the following steps:
- Confront the issue
- Receive feedback
- Understand other viewpoints
- Solve the issue
- Heal the relationship
Let me show you in more detail how these tools can help you when your next agile team-conflict occurs.
Confronting the issue can prove difficult at times. As Terry Goodkind stated in Faith of the Fallen, “Knowing when to fight is just as important as knowing how.” Where and when you choose to have this interaction is important. It is advisable not to engage in the heat of the moment, or the situation may escalate. Although withdrawal or avoidance is not preferred long-term, take time to cool down for a day or two and then approach your team member and recommend a conversation.
The most effective way to confront conflict with a team member is face-to-face and in private. This is not a conversation for a public forum, such as a Sprint Retrospective. Get out of the office; go on a walk or get coffee.
If you are working with distributed teams and your conflict started in email, be sure to obey a 24-hour rule. Resist the urge to fire back an email rant when you are in the moment. Wait until the next day and pick up the phone because a phone conversation is second-best to a face-to-face meeting.
During the conversation, be direct and discuss the issues impacting the team.
You have taken the high road and requested a meeting with your teammate. You must receive the message they are communicating. Don't lose your cool, listen to their side of the story. This is not the time to argue your point, you are past this. Your mission here is to allow your teammate to express their feelings so that you understand their perspective.
Body language is important here. No crossing arms, rolling eyes or sighs of disbelief. How many of us have been in situations where the person we are trying to communicate with is visibly not interested or just shut down? Create an open environment of trust where your teammate can truly speak their mind and not withdrawal from the conversation. Good eye contact, active listening and summarizing what you have heard will show your teammate you are receiving the message and open to working it out.
Now that you have initiated the conversation and created an open environment, it is time to understand the underlying problem.
What is your teammate truly saying? What they are communicating may not be the underlying problem. Is it possible that your teammate is not accepting change? Are they afraid of failure? Do they feel threatened? I experienced this once while implementing a new software package for a customer. One of the administrators was not engaged and took every opportunity to call out deficiencies in the product. I discovered she felt her job was at risk due to the elimination of several manual processes.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. The art of reading between the lines is a lifelong quest of the wise.” ― Shannon L. Alder
If the underlying issue is not coming out, try using the 5 why’s technique for problem solving.
With the underlying issues uncovered, you can collaborate with the team member to solve the problem.
In 'Navigating Conflict - A Guide to Fostering High Performing Agile Teams,' Lyssa Adkins writes that teams should operate with some level of constructive disagreement as opposed to World War.
If you can achieve world peace here, go for it but this is not the main goal. You are simply trying to get to a place to remove the negativity impacting the team.
Early in my career I worked for a startup. Every day was full of energy as the team tried to sell their idea about how the product should behave. We had the classic issue where the technology guy thought we should go one route but the sales guy wanted to go another. When one would go on vacation, the other would change our direction. One day everything came to a head and our Director of Technology stormed out of the office and went home. All of this happened in front of the team. They never solved their issues and one of them eventually left the company.
Finally, put the issue behind you and start to build trust again. It will take time and you may still experience withdrawal from your teammate but hang in there and when the time is right, you will start to collaborate closer together again.
On one occasion, I was in the beginning of an agile transformation and a teammate that had been with the organization for several years did not respond positively to the change. Meetings were tough as he was withdrawn from conversations with both myself and his manager. It was totally awkward and I had to confront the situation. What I learned was he felt his opinion did not matter and being new to Scrum, he did not know how to engage in the conversations, so he withdrew. I was able to provide additional training and also setup one-on-one time to get his input and things started to turn around. We healed the relationship, put the issues behind us and even went to lunch one day!
Every team experiences conflict and knowing how to address it will allow your team to quickly confront the issue and start healing. Keep in mind, you and your team are driving towards the same goals and trying to avoid world war should be one of them.