Team conflicts are nothing new in the world of project management. They have been around longer than projects themselves and will continue to be a constant factor in the dynamics of our teams. One of the many tasks that a project manager is responsible for is ensuring that conflicts are dealt with quickly and effectively. Conflicts are primarily borne of competing ideas or values. While this is not necessarily a detrimental component to your project (in fact, it is often healthy to have those conversations), how conflicts are dealt with can have a significant impact on how your team functions and performs.
Identifying a conflict is not always as easy as one would think. Not all disputes are marked by the traditional flags of shouting matches and harsh emails back and forth. Project managers need to be tuned into the communications of their teams (verbal and non-verbal) to keep a close eye for potentially damaging conflicts. For example, when you have a common problem and your team is suggesting multiple ways to address it, each one mutually exclusive from the other, there is a chance you could see a potential conflict among team members depending on which solution is chosen to move forward with. Perhaps not because that individual’s plan was not chosen, but because it’s their feeling that the other alternatives will not be successful. As project manager you need to be tuned into that frequency and be able to get in front of the conflict before it becomes damaging to your team and your project.
There are many, many different ways to address a conflict from a leadership perspective. Entire books have been written on the subject and everyone has their own style of dealing with conflicts between team members. While a lot of people will say you just pull everyone into a room and “hash it out” that doesn’t always work, depending on the personalities you are dealing with. For me, it’s primarily about communication and understanding. I try to get a read on everyone’s personality and assess their appetite for compromise (the heart of any conflict resolution). Nine times out of 10 people are receptive to it – the other one you have a personnel problem. If a group meeting makes sense to convey that understanding among the individuals, go forward with that. If it makes sense to meet one-on-one to be the custodian and messenger of that information, that has worked as well. At the heart of it, what you are trying to achieve is a sense of common understanding among team members. You’re not trying to get them to change their minds (you want independent thinkers on your team!) but you want them to be able to respect others’ ideas knowing that you all have the same common goal in mind.