Tips for “Resolving” Team Conflict

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

If the statistic is true (and I think it is), that over 80% of projects fail, it indicates that a lot of teams are in conflict. Failing projects tend to bring out the worst in everyone, causing 4 Ways To Resolve Team Conflictssensitivities and emotions to run high. Conflict is a serious disagreement. Resolving means to disperse or heal a condition, to settle a dispute or find a solution to a problem. A lot of times I hear terms thrown around far too casually, especially when it comes to resolving team conflict, so it’s important to know what we mean. Over the years I’ve worked with many organizations to rescue failing projects, and one of the first things I would do is look at team conflict. Truthfully, team conflict actually causes teams or the projects to fail in many cases. As a result, I had many “Aha!” moments, and want to share four tips that will help you resolve team conflict and prevent project failure.

  1. “Things have to get worse before they get better.” Well, maybe they don’t have to, but it sure helps to know when to fuel conflict instead of disperse it. Sometimes we have to fuel it to get to the real issue. When people argue or are in disagreement, on the surface it looks like one thing but not until you get down to the root cause will you find that it’s something totally different. The way to uncover real issues is to get the main players to argue their points, layer after layer after layer. It may be that marketing doesn’t get along with IT, and that the core issue is fear, or someone not telling the truth about something being done. Once you get down to the real issue then you can begin solving for that instead of looking at the people side of things.
  2. “What about me?” Many times, people just want to be heard. If someone is presenting their approach or solution to a problem and another team member feels like they are not being heard, it’s important that the project manager listen to and acknowledge all sides in the conflict. Once everyone feels like they’ve been heard and all the facts are on the table, then you can look at which solution is best for that problem.
  3. “I’ve never been that way before.” I used to travel often with my team to an out-of-town retreat center. We had all driven the route hundreds of times and always took turns driving. One time we had a new leader who insisted we go in a different direction that the rest of us were unfamiliar with. Another team member was driving, and we eventually had to stop because we were lost. If everyone had kept calm we could have saved hours instead of circling around a mountain trying to get to our location. The lesson I learned was that the project manager should able to show that different paths lead to the same destination.
  4. “Great minds don’t necessarily think alike.” If you want to resolve conflict it’s very helpful to consider people’s thinking styles. I recall one project team that regularly held brainstorming sessions for strategy. One member of the team, Kathy, was particularly analytical, and as the saying goes, proved that it’s difficult to create and destroy at the same time. During the innovative, creative sessions Kathy would only think about risk, effectively destroying what we were trying to create. It caused team conflict, dissention, and hours upon hours of trying to create new ideas for new solutions. The idea is that the project manager should understand that great minds are still great but know when to interject different thinking styles. What we learned was to not include Kathy in the creative parts of the project, not because we didn’t like her or because she wasn’t bringing value, but it clearly frustrated her and the team. Once we did the creative part we brought her in for the analysis. She was perfect to break down those ideas, show us what it would take to get things done and the risk that we may have overlooked.

These are a few tips for you to consider, although it’s always great to research other team conflict methodologies as well.  Knowing what the core issues are is what I’ve found to be the most important aspect of resolving team conflict on a project.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Whitt, PMP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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