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Managing Teams: From Conflict-Ridden to Conflict-Free 

​by  Veronica Thraen / June 12, 2016

When it comes to conflict within a project team, I’ve seen and heard it all—from technical disagreements over product design and miscommunication on requirements to conflict between various stakeholders over project scope.

Although some conflict can actually be productive and promote creativity within the team, it’s the negative conflict that is very disruptive and must be proactively managed before it affects the entire team and overall project delivery.

Here are some examples of conflict that can occur during the lifecycle of a project, and how to resolve them:

Team Disagreements

Disagreements on an idea or other can be good—as long as there is a valid reason and recommended alternative. This can spark other ideas within the team, allowing them to discover a better solution than what was originally proposed.

But things can take a turn for the worse when someone on the team brings an “I’m smarter than the rest of you” attitude and expects everything to go their way. To manage this type of conflict, the project manager should bring it to their attention first since they may not realize how their actions are affecting the rest of the team. If the behavior continues, the issue will need to be discussed with their direct manager. Team collaboration is essential for project success so an individual contributor role may be a better option.

Lack of Motivation

An unmotivated team member can cause friction if the team feels that they are not pulling their own weight. This will be apparent to a PM pretty quickly because tasks will become consistently late. Does the resource have the appropriate skills to take on the assigned tasks? Do they have a clear understanding of the project scope and objectives? Are they challenged enough?

Reassigning tasks and clarifying project scope can help resolve this type of conflict and are well within the project manager’s area of responsibility—along with ensuring that the entire team remains motivated through project completion. The PM should make certain that the team understands why/how the initiative is important for them as well as for the company. Also, working with direct managers on a reward or bonus incentive is a great way to show appreciation for a great team effort!

Communication Issues

There are many reasons for communication issues—disengaged team members, dispersed teams, language barriers and so on. Conflict is bound to arise if the team cannot get questions answered in a timely manner, misunderstands a specific requirement, or finds an issue that could have easily been avoided if they were working together more diligently.

Try scheduling a 15-minute daily meeting with all team members—dispersed and co-located—to openly discuss what they completed yesterday, what they will work on today and if there are any roadblocks that are preventing them from moving forward. Daily communication with the team will help eliminate confusion and frustration—and will quickly reveal any inefficiencies.

So, what’s the worst example of team conflict that you have experienced and what steps did you take to resolve it?

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