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As a SM I try to promote great environement for my team by encouraging collaboration and teamwork. It works well for the work hours, but during lunch time 2 of them always argue against each other on political matters, which tend to deteriorate the mood of the whole team.

Is this something that the SM should solve by himself or is it beyond my role? I know the theory around solving conflict by creating a shared identity. But they are extreme in their view and belief, and I can't see a shared ground here.

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In Scrum you should bring this topic up during the retrospective meeting. If the topic really bothers the other team members they'll say so and the team will find a solution to the problem.

Outside of Scrum you should have a face-to-face discussion with the two colleagues and ask them to stop talking about disturbing not job related matters in public.

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    well I can't see myself asking them to stop talking about things during their lunch. I mean this is their free time and I can't remove them this freedom of speech right? – xsace Feb 16 '12 at 14:07
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    I always say that the team is worth more than an individual. If their talk has any kind of bad effect on the team I think something has to be done. The interesting thing is why the others are joining, if the discussion bother them? I completely with you on "the freedom of speech", but the others have right for a quiet lunch ;-) I'm not sure about the context, but if the two have lunch together without the others, and after lunch they cannot work together due to their heated discussions, in this case you have to talk to them, because it's work related now – Zsolt Feb 16 '12 at 14:24
  • It's also worth adding that you can just simply "talk to them" without dictating actions or resolutions. Sometimes when you explain the situation, people change their behavior. Treat them like you'd treat a roommate who doesn't know how loud he is being at 10pm at night. – jmort253 Feb 19 '12 at 23:27
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If the role of the Scrum Master is to remove impediments to efficient work and to ensure that the work process continues smoothly, then at the point where the personal discussions "always tend to deteriorate the mood of the whole team" you have the opportunity to exercise your role as SM.

I agree with Zsolt's answer that you should bring this up in the sprint retrospective meetings, to determine if it really is an impediment to the work. If it is, it would be appropriate to have a sidebar meeting with the two parties to ask them to find a way to have their discussions such that it does not affect the team. However, beyond that I would say that as a SM and not their manager, you're limited in what you can do outside of removing an impediment to work; you could have a conversation with their manager if the issues continue in a way that cannot be resolved within the scrum framework. (If you are also their manager, then you do have additional tools at your disposal to resolve the issue.)

  • Why wait till a retrospective? Why not discuss it (side-bar) with the individuals asap? – Agile Scout Feb 16 '12 at 20:30
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    @AgileScout Sure, you could do that, but I'd first like to ensure that it IS a problem for the team, and not just a perception. Depends on the length of sprint, how clear or not the impediment really is, etc -- no reason to wait if you don't have to, but no reason to jump in if you don't have to. We don't have all the info here. – jcmeloni Feb 16 '12 at 20:38
  • What @jcmeloni said - check that it's a problem. We had two team members who always argued, but they actually enjoyed it. I was able to point that out to the team members who were showing discomfort and everything was sorted. – Lunivore Feb 18 '12 at 10:48
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Regardless of your position as SM, you detected a conflict that's impacting the project; therefore, I'd suggest you to privately have an objective 1-to-1 with each of them, explaining your point of view and your concern that it may impact on the team.

They could be your superiors, they could be your subordinates. As part of the project, it's your duty to share your concern and put your efforts fixing it. Better safe than sorry.

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I think that you should first evaluate if the team have a co-political view, or almost close to it. If it doesn't, it could be dangerous to go into it, because it would create a bad enviorement in some cases.

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If this were happening in the office while everyone is supposed to be working, then it's a problem that needs to be addressed by someone, whether it be manager or scrum master.

However, this is happening during lunch, which in the United States is generally not paid time. The rules may or may not be different elsewhere.

Assuming lunch is personal time in your neck of the woods, it's up to you who you eat lunch with and associate with during your personal time. If the political discussions are so disruptive to your mood that you can't concentrate once you're back to work, then maybe it's time to go have lunch with the cute girl in accounting instead of reluctantly participating in the political debates of the outhouse lawyers.

Like I said, the rules are different in other locales, so you should consider the rules and customs of your culture (corporate or country) when deciding how to proceed.

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