Managing Project teams Conflict resolution

May 27, 2010

Conflicts do happen, in fact they happen without exception, whenever a collection of human beings work together. What needs to happen is a way of resolving these conflict that does not let the issues become long-term ones and lets both parties go away from the situation without losing dignity in any manner. Thus this is not an easy task to undertake, nor there is a very hard and fast rule that can guide you. Organizational theories and human behavior theories can guide you. But ultimately it is your own expertise derived from internalizing all the theories are what matters.
Conflicts and their resolution
There are many a sources for generation of conflicts besides individual peculiarities of human beings. Some such situations are scarce resources, scheduling priorities, personal work styles. Tensions are natural outcomes of these conflict situations. Measures that can reduce the tensions, take away real bottlenecks can help bettering the performance of the team as a whole. When members in a conflict are able to walk away with dignity, it does not affect anyones self esteem. Better working relationships also result from successful conflict management. The tools that can help maintain a low level of conflicts are the initial ground rules, group norms, project management practices like communication planning and clear roles definitions help.
Project leadership have to be very flexible with respect to conflicts happening. They need to be aware that conflicts are a natural phenomenon in a team environment, often conflict initiates search for alternatives etc. While resolving conflicts the management needs to focus on issue arising out of the conflict rather than the personalities involved. Similarly focus on the present not the past, in terms of history or for branding someone to be a trouble maker. It is so easy to do that and possibly condemn a member. Complete listening capability, in terms of what exactly are the parties trying to communicate is a necessity on the part of the project manager. Even a large dose of empathy would be useful in understanding the issues in a conflict. Above all not only the team leaders be open they should very clearly appear to be open to all of the team members.
When the conflict resolutions are managed properly, the differences can actually lead to newer alternatives, ideas, creativity and better decision making. You are not able to see all the dimensions of an issue if most participants tend to agree. When an conflict starts the team members should try to resolve the same but escalate project manager if that fails. What clearly works is for the project management to adopt an open and positive approach. A direct and collaborative project manager should be able to resolve conflicts quite easily. Such resolution hearings are best done in private. Should all the sincere efforts fail then formal methods including disciplinary actions would be called for.
There are several conflict resolution strategies suggested in literature. These include withdrawing/avoiding, smoothing/accommodating, compromising, forcing, collaborating and confronting/problem solving strategies. Withdrawing or avoiding a conflict is a possible alternative in resolving a conflict. Smoothing/accommodating approach is to focus on areas of agreement rather than the differences between the parties. Compromising is the method of finding the golden mean or some way of a win-win for all the parties involved. While forcing can resolve conflicts particularly by pulling rank; this should be used on rare occasions. Collaborative approach lets all the parties work with a positive attitude when everyone is trying to reach a solution. Differing viewpoints are taken into consideration and one tries to arrive at a consensus that encourages commitment. Confronting/problem solving approach starts by admitting a problem exists and the tries to find a solution by solving that problem.
Project managers need to keep these alternatives in mind and then try to apply what is appropriate in a given situation of an actual conflict. Success in managing a project team is largely determined by how ell a particular project manager is able to carry out the resolutions. The method a manager chooses an be out of the above six strategies. But what is appropriate is a decision the manager has to take. This decision will also depend on some other factors. These include relative importance and intensity of the conflict, how soon the conflict needs to be resolved, positions taken by the parties involved, motivation to resolve conflict on a long-term or a short-term basis.
One thing is certain, procrastination does not help. Best thing to do is to look for early signs of a conflict arising and possible move quickly and nip the issues as soon as possible. It is also good to remember that no problem solves itself on its own. So when a conflict has started happening it is the best approach to get the parties together listen to all sides of the story and find a resolution.

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