It’s inevitable that when a group of people are working together towards a common goal, conflicts are bound to arise. Collaboration, despite its incredible benefits to an organization, unfortunately, also leads to conflicts.
Conflict isn’t always destructive though. It can give rise to new ideas and approaches and a sense of healthy competition that drives everyone to perform better. However, when negative conflicts occur, people usually feel discouraged and distrustful, that quickly leads to a corrosive environment.
For project managers managing a group of people, it is a herculean task to ensure that all team members get along. This is because each member of the group has their own goals, ambitions, interests, specific viewpoints and way of doing things. So disagreements may ensue quite often. Whether your team disagrees about strategy, technology, processes, or even the perspective with which they view a certain problem, if left unchecked, conflicts can amount to detrimental outcomes in organizations.
While conflict is unavoidable in workplaces and managing these conflicts can seem challenging to new project managers, there are techniques to deal with it that will help your team iron out their disagreements in a productive manner and work in cohesion.
1. Accept that there is a conflict
Sometimes, it may seem easier to just get through the day pretending that the conflict or disagreement is not happening. Project manager who are pressed for time, especially do not want to get into the nitty gritty of why team members are not getting along. Their focus is to get the project done on time, so they may fail to see that the brewing contentions could actually cause project demise. It is therefore vital that project managers take measures to nip conflicts in the bud, by first acknowledging their exist and then taking appropriate steps to resolve it, depending on the situation and the personalities of the people involved.
2. Create an environment conducive to cooperation
Once the conflict is acknowledged, it is now time for the project manager to take appropriate measures to resolve it. First, it is important to ensure that every team member is aware that they should not be prioritizing individual needs or wants, but rather the success of the project. It is also necessary that the project manager set some ground rules as to what can or can not be done. He/she should also ensure that all team members are setting aside personal opinion or even vendettas, and focus instead on the bigger picture. The project manager should be able to ask pointed questions that help identify the cause of conflict and get right to the root of the problem.
3. Understand each team member’s viewpoint in order to make a well informed decision
Now that the team has been primed to share their specific opinion on how a certain issue has to be handled, you will have to go around the circle to gather each member’s stand on the situation. Clarifying the positions of every person involved in the project will help you understand if the conflict is caused by isolated opinions, or if they are shared by other team members as well. Is it a person against person conflict or is it one person against the rest of the team or could it be sections within the team itself that are conflicting with each other? Each individual’s viewpoint must be listened to and understood, to truly get to the bottom of the conflict.
4. Work together to create a solution that benefits the project
Because you are taking into account each team member’s viewpoint, you are also showing them that their thoughts and opinions are important and valuable to the final decision making process. Now, it is time to ask the team for a solution. Since, everyone is in agreement that completing the project successfully takes priority, each team member would also be aware that the resolution strategy they are offering, is truly beneficial for everyone involved. Giving the the respect and space to share their thought process also adds responsibility and accountability to each team member.
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5. Exercise authority when required
It is not always that every team member is going to be onboard when the final solution is proposed. In high risk situations, you can not afford to keep the conflict dragging, hence it is advisable that you wield authority in order to maintain your stand on the proposed solution. Sometimes, this could simply mean issuing a command to your team members to resolve the conflict.
6. Avoid the conflict
Retreating can be an optimal solution when the issue isn’t a real problem to begin with. Avoiding the situation till the individual cools off may be more productive than trying to tackle it immediately. Project manager should use their best judgement when making a call like this, and also ensure that the team member isn’t feeling neglected or oversighted, but rather just given time to think over the situation. Once the situation has calmed down, you can expect to have a more productive discussion.
Conflicts can sometimes be easy to handle, and at other times, seem nearly impossible. There is no textbook method to handle conflict resolution, because at the end of the day, people and their emotions vary from one situation to the next. No matter what the cause of the conflict, whether it is because team members aren’t aware of what is expected of them or because there is a power struggle at work, it is important to find ways to resolve disagreements as fast as possible. Project managers have to be particularly well versed in learning various conflict management styles and using them judiciously and appropriately for favorable conflict management.
The objective is to build a team that is focused on learning from mistakes, becoming better at communication, and eventually deliver improved project outcomes.