In a project team conflict is unavoidable. To manage it effectively, you need to accept that prevention isn’t always an option. However, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. You have the ability to choose how to manage your project team conflict effectively.
Conflict in a project team can be caused by many factors. It might be unrealistic deadlines, personality clashes, missed project milestones or even bullying and harassment.
To successfully resolve each conflict, you have to assess situations individually, using your judgment to apply the right solution. A lot of it’s knowing when it’s the right time to take action. It’s also about ensuring there are robust remedial mechanisms in place before a conflict occurs.
Whether you’re starting a new project, or have noticed signs of conflict in your project team, it’s in your professional interest to deal with it swiftly.
So listen up. Here are 13 top tips that will empower you to restore your serenity to your project team.
1. Accept that Conflict is Natural
We’re all human and unfortunately conflict is in our nature. That’s because sometimes, when we feel that we’re not getting our points across, conflict can seem like the only option.
Conflict is much more common in high intensity work environments. As you know, projects are highly complex beasts; the perfect breeding ground for conflicting objectives. That’s why it’s so common for conflicts to emerge.
Accepting this is important. That’s because unless you acknowledge that conflict exists, you will never be able to manage it effectively.
Don’t see conflict as a failure. Conflicts aren’t always a sign of poor management. They’re also not always a bad thing.
In the best case scenarios, conflicts can drive productivity, unleash creativity, and take your project in a new and rewarding directions.
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2. Conflicts Should Never Be Ignored
Surely if conflict is inevitable, it’s fine to ignore it? Never take this stance.
If your first reaction to conflict is to bury your head, then get ready for the conflict to escalate. While conflicts are unavoidable, not taking the appropriate action to address them is not an option.
If you are ignoring conflict now, you need to seriously re-evaluate your position.
Be honest. Do you really want a conflict to put your project and career in jeopardy? This is the most likely outcome of inaction, so avoid it at all costs.
3. Invest Time to Understand the Conflict
The root of conflict is not always the same. Conflict can be caused by anything, including clashing egos, incompatible objectives, lack of resourcing, poor management, perceived unfair treatment and even bullying and harassment.
Understanding your project will help you identify conflict as it emerges. Never forget, some causes are more concerning than others. Frequent bullying and harassment is a sure sign of systemic and even structural issues in your project team.
That’s why it’s vital for you, and the overall success of your project that you are able to identify conflict when it rears.
Regular individual catch-ups with your team will help you keep on top of conflict. That’s because they will help you probe its underlying causes where necessary. Make sure you invest time in understanding the root cause.
4. Accept That Sometimes The Problem Is You
Be honest and accept when you are responsible for conflict. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all make mistakes.
The difference between being a good and a bad manager is whether you are willing to take remedial action. It could be anything from managing your team differently, displaying new and more effective behaviors, or establishing new procedures in your place of work.
5. Use But Don’t Abuse Your Position
As the Project Manager, you have authority over your project team. When a conflict emerges, sometimes you can resolve it with an instruction.
Relevant situations include conflicts emerging about the direction your project, or even the prioritization of project workstreams. If this is the cause of your conflict, as Project Manager, you are within your authority to take an executive decision, and set out exactly what the project’s future direction should be.
Be warned though, it is recommended that you use this technique sparingly. That’s because it removes autonomy from your team, and could result in them placing a greater reliance on you in the future.
6. Act as the Mediator
When there’s an obvious conflict between two team members, mediation is a tool you can use to empower them to resolve their differences.
It doesn’t always matter what the cause of the problem is. It could be a persistent difference in opinion about the project, or a personal matter.
Once you have identified that there’s a problem, if it doesn’t resolve itself consider inviting them both to a meeting to discuss their issues. Before you start, clearly establish that the meeting’s objective is to address the conflict and set out what behavior is acceptable. By calling the meeting you are establishing your authority as the Project Manager, and showing the individuals in question that their behavior will not be tolerated.
Ensure that each party has the opportunity to express their grievances. Encourage them both to find a compromise that works, ideally for the good of the project.
Although this is not the right setting to tell them how to resolve their problem, you can offer impartial advice and help steer them to a solution that works for everyone.
7. Solve the Problem, Not the Symptom
When conflicts emerge, it can be much easier to address the symptom rather than the problem. Perhaps a conversation between two members of your team became heated caused a team member to criticize progress on a project workstream.
You need to be able to identify whether something was said in the heat of the moment, or if it was caused by something more fundamental to the project.
Remember, sometimes other team members feels ignored and just want their work to be acknowledged.
It can be difficult to talk about emotions in the workplace. But a happy team that doesn’t feel dissatisfied with their work will be better optimized and more productive. So take time to understand what the actual problem is and don’t jump to address the first and most obvious challenge.
8. Keep Calm and Listen
When parts of your project team are arguing about an issue that you, and other members of the team think is trivial, it’s easy to get frustrated.
If you’re a person of action, sometimes you may react to situations in ways that are not immediately beneficial to you or the team. When you find yourself getting hot under the collar, walk away and return when you have a cooler head.
While your focus will be on the project’s progress, other team members may find it easy to become caught up in other, smaller issues. Don’t interpret this as the wrong approach. Colleagues in different positions will think differently to you. You need to be able to show that you are interested in their problems, so avoid getting angry at all costs. Take time to listen to what the grievance is, however minor.
Surprisingly, sometimes just listening to someone’s problem will help them address it themselves, resolving the issue for you more permanently.
9. Don’t Forget, Sometimes Disagreements Work
Disagreements are sometimes beneficial to the project. No, this does not include Bullying and Harassment as a motivational technique.
Instead, sometimes conflicts caused by competition can increase productivity in the team, and actively help you find new, better ways of working. It can event help you apply extra scrutiny to processes that have been taken for granted.
Take for example some of your project’s dependencies. Perhaps you’re waiting for one strand of your team, let’s say Project Management, to deliver a new Risk Register. However, while the deadline has not yet been passed, other teams have started collating their risks and are increasingly becoming concerned that there is no central oversight.
Use this to your advantage.
If other people have already completed work that would be valuable to consider when creating the risk register, and will help another team to deliver their work more efficiently, encourage them to collaborate.
10. Be Prepared to Redistribute Responsibilities
When you manage a project, it’s not uncommon for priorities to change. It could be anything bringing forward a deadline, to adding extra milestones as unforeseen obstacles emerge.
These changes can sometimes give people the impression that their areas of responsibility are being eroded, or alternately that they have too much work. You will know this already, but some of your team members may be too proud to delegate their work, and will take on more than they can handle, increasing tensions throughout the team.
As the Project Manager, if someone is not performing or has too much work, be prepared to address the challenge by redistributing work across the team.
One of the biggest causes of conflict are ambiguous responsibilities and changing roles. It’s your responsibility to ensure that any changes to peoples’ roles are adequately managed and well explained.
11. Improve Communication and Team Bonding
Poor communication breeds conflict. Remember, communication is more than just speaking face to face. It’s how you manage milestones, share draft work, and can also include challenges like email overload.
There are many strategies you can use to improve communication in your Project Team. If people are not talking to each other, consider setting up daily stand-ups or meetings. As Project Manager, you could help the team better understand how the project is progressing by writing a weekly project update to staff.
Then there’s also the challenge of team bonding. If you have a new team that have not previously worked on a project together, sometimes they need time to get to know each other, and understand their individual styles of working.
Improving your team’s understanding of where each member has come from, what their background is and what their skills are, will help your team work better together and can address existing conflict.
Quick fix solutions to this include team bonding sessions. Be creative, you could organize a Project Team Away Day. It could be in the form of training, a volunteering day, or even an after work activity. Providing an out of work activity can help your team humanize and empathize with each others challenges more effectively. Helping make conflict less likely.
12. Where Possible, Conflict Solutions Should Benefit the Project
You’re managing the project. That means whatever happens, and whatever the conflict, its resolution should benefit your program.
Maybe someone is frustrated because their ideas are not being listened to. However, if their ideas are not being considered because they are poor, you cannot accept them just to address the conflict.
By taking the easy route as this will set you up for more conflict in the future.
You need to make sure that your project is on track, and while sometimes that will mean hurting people’s feelings, you’re doing everyone a favor in the long run.
Remember, it’s better to keep a conflict localized to your team, rather than letting it spread to the rest of your company because you missed a delivery milestone.
13. Celebrate Overcoming Conflict
When team members have worked to resolve a conflict, whether it is one that you have intervened in or not, always make sure you celebrate their achievement. However, try not to celebrate it for what it is, specifically overcoming a conflict.
Instead, celebrate the work that has been achieved as a result of the conflict being addressed.
You should do this however you see fit, whether it’s by sending an email to the office, taking a moment to mention your team during a regular meeting, or personally inviting those who have been clashing for a private word of commendation.
When you celebrate overcoming conflict, you are showing your project team that it’s in their interest to overcome conflict for the greater good of the project. It’s a great way to inspire them to resolve their own problems in the future.
It also shows your project team that you are in tune with the office and empathize with daily work challenges.
Crack Conflict Completely
It’s unfortunate, but conflicts are often unavoidable. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing you can do about it.
However, while you can’t always prevent conflict, you can address it. What defines your success as a Project Manager is how you manage these challenges.
Remember to use these tips to crack conflict in your office. They’ll help you deliver better project delivery and, importantly a better working environment for everyone.