Agile Marketing and the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Fear of Conflict

In my last post, I discussed how the framework from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni can illustrate how and why adopting Agile Marketing and the scrum process leads to success.  And I drilled-down on the first dysfunction: absence of trust.

Picking up from that point, let’s look at the second dysfunction: fear of conflict.  This stems directly from the absence of trust.  When team members aren’t comfortable being open and honest about their strengths and weaknesses, then conflicts about real issues are avoided because people too easily take them as personal attacks.  E.g. do you really think there’s a better way of doing that, or are you implying I’m incompetent at my job?  As a result, there are some rather obvious symptoms in team behaviors:

  • Meetings are boring because “arguments” are quickly shut-down to keep the peace
  • People use sarcasm and innuendo rather than constructive criticism
  • Lots of politics behind the scenes

The reasons for those behaviors should be pretty obvious.  If you don’t trust each other, you won’t risk engaging in honest, productive discussions that may involve conflict.  And conflict isn’t a bad thing – it’s pretty far from being a four-letter word.  Honest conflict shines a light on legitimate differences in opinion and provides an opportunity to get people on the same page.

So how does the Agile Marketing philosophy and the scrum process address this dysfunction?

  • Agile Marketers value many small experiments over a few large bets

That’s straight out of the Agile Marketing Manifesto.  And this time I want to emphasize the phrase “may small experiments”.  When there is conflict about which marketing tactics to use, what content to produce, what differentiators to highlight, etc. an Agile Marketer is comfortable with trying multiple options with an open mind to see what works and what doesn’t.  That provides a constructive avenue to channel that type of conflict and it produces valuable insights to the team.

  • Scrum defines certain roles and responsibilities

Conflict does not need to be resolved through consensus.  In fact, consensus is often the wrong goal – focus instead on reaching a decision that people feel like they were genuinely involved in.  Even if it’s not the outcome they want, most reasonable people will feel comfortable with a decision so long as they feel they were able to give input and have it genuinely considered.  And in scrum, if it’s a decision about priority or goals – the Marketing Owner role makes the decision.  And if it’s a decision about how to do something or how much effort to estimate – the Team makes the decision.

  • Scrum encourages constructive conversation

The work in the marketing backlog is treated as an invitation to a conversation between the Marketing Owner and Team.  And it’s through conversation, not through prescriptive contractual documentation, that scrum teams can have constructive differences of opinion without onerous formality.  So discussion, questioning and debate aren’t the exception – they’re the norm.

  • Scrum uses activities that enable “safe” conflict

For example, many scrum teams use planning poker to create estimates.  One of the great things about planning poker is that it exposes honest differences in opinion (you all show your estimates at the same time without any knowledge of each other’s estimates) and that triggers constructive conversation.  There’s also the retrospective meeting, a formal part of the scrum process.  The retrospective meeting dedicates time at the end of each sprint to enable team members to openly give feedback to the team – the good, the bad and the ugly.  By repeatedly engaging in that behavior, teams quickly become accustomed to dealing with constructive criticism and use it to improve.

Just like last time, I could probably go on and on about this dysfunction and how Agile Marketing philosophy and scrum do a great job of beating it to death.  Hopefully you get the idea.  And if you recognize this dysfunction, you see how adopting Agile Marketing and the scrum process will lead to success.  Of course, we’ve only addressed two of five dysfunctions – next time I’ll discuss “Lack of Commitment”.



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