3.3 Managing conflict
Conflict can emerge when a project is thought to be absorbing scarce resources or shifting the balance of power.
The schedule for project meetings provides a framework for communication while the project is in progress. Meetings with team members on a one-to-one basis, in addition to group meetings, will help them to feel supported and could be an opportunity to provide coaching when necessary.
Example 7: Reducing risks from conflict
It is inevitable that conflict will develop at some stage in any project team composed of people with different personalities, backgrounds, experiences and specialist skills. Interpersonal conflict may arise where people do not want to get along because of different specialisms, racial prejudices, ethics, morals and the like. Typical causes of conflict include breakdown in communications, conflicting objectives and lack of trust. Ambition, jealousy and simply the wrong ‘chemistry’ are not unusual. There is often fear of change, or of exposure of some inadequacy or of failure.
Conflict can be healthy to the success of the project team, provided that it teaches everyone something about how to deal with and participate in resolution of the conflict. Look at all the communication channels and human interfaces to identify conflict risks. It can help to hold a risk identification workshop, or to carry out team building by openly declaring risks.
Risks by themselves will not disappear. You should devise a risk mitigation plan to deal with identified risks in a controlled way by being proactive. This might involve improving communications, substituting some personnel, or making changes in the project organisation. It is best if you can do this in the early stages. You also need to be reactive and put together contingency plans. Be on the lookout for new conflicts, because peoples’ circumstances and behaviour will change as the project progresses through the various phases. We humans like company even if people affect us, shape us and influence our feelings, attitudes and thoughts. Being a member of a project team affects individuals. Where two work together for their mutual benefit, they are co-operating. It is a valuable behaviour. Competition arises when two or more people vie for a goal where not everyone can be a winner. The alert project manager can develop a behaviour influence strategy whereby he will encourage team members to say good things about each other. People tend to want to help those who say good things about them. Project managers need to encourage team members to exchange favours: smaller ones first, larger ones later once trust/good relationships have been established.
Consider situations where there has been conflict? How did this conflict occur? What happened to improve the situation? Where could you see that communications had failed? What was done to improve communications?