Project Management Institute

Keeping the peace

sharpen your conflict resolution skills with these steps to address -- and prevent -- trouble on your project team

Sharpen your conflict resolution skills with these steps to address—and prevent—trouble on your project team.

BY DEBORAH A. DELL, PMP

Do you remember your first conflict? Was it in the classroom or on the playground with teammates or with your parents? Regardless of the actual event, you learned that the ability to respond to conflict is fundamental to success. And whether you're a kid in school or an adult dealing with project teams, peer managers, stakeholders and executives, a well-managed conflict can contribute to a strong team environment.

All project managers know that conflict is bound to arise while the project team focuses on objectives and deliverables. The project manager's job is to balance the team's different views and experiences. This can be done using the following simple, structured approach.

Understanding the nature of the conflict is necessary to determine how best to resolve it. It's tough to do because each team member brings a unique personality, culture and skill set to the project. And with that comes a unique form of communicating.

Conflict tends to arise from unclear communication across the project team. For instance, when I was a project manager on IBM's ThinkPad team and working with our development team in Japan, I did not know that acknowledgement of a statement did not always mean agreement. That led to a few conflicts. I quickly learned that my role as the project manager was to consider all nuances of communications and ensure the rest of the team didn't make the same mistake I did.

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GET EVERYONE'S INPUT

Gather the group to discuss all thoughts and reactions out in the open, laying the groundwork for an acceptable resolution to all parties and a better understanding of one another. Ensure that all views are heard and understood without judgment. It is imperative that the project manager remains impartial.

But beware: It is easy for team members to stay quiet in a group environment, especially during conference or video calls. The project manager needs to draw out input and agreement. My approach at the end of a meeting, whether face-to-face or virtual, is to query each participant individually.

DECIDE ON A RESOLUTION

The project manager must encourage members to share their positions on what will resolve the conflict. Discussions should be based on fact, not emotion, whenever possible.

Sharing past experiences often can provide needed insight or possible solutions for the project problem at hand. Such unguarded discussions may reveal areas of agreement not previously acknowledged or solutions not yet considered.

PREVENT FUTURE CONFLICT

One of the best ways to resolve conflict is to prevent it. Establish a team code of conduct or set aside time in meetings and at various checkpoints for team members to share personal interests and project challenges.

By listening to each team member and acknowledging the team's strengths and differences, the project manager can fortify the team environment with trust and keep conflicts to a minimum. And that makes project success more likely. PM

img Deborah (Debi) A. Dell, PMP, is the manager of the Project Management Center of Excellence at IBM, a PMI Global Executive Council member. She works from her home in Delray Beach, Florida, USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2015 WWW.PMI.ORG

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