The Project Team and Conflicts

A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to accomplish a unique result and characterized by objective, interdependent tasks, resources, specific time frame, one time endeavour, a sponsor and a degree of uncertainty. On the other hand, project team is a group of individuals working interdependently to accomplish the project objective including but not limited to scope, cost, time, and quality.

Because, every project is unique and temporary, there is tendency for project related conflict to develop. The focus here is on project team conflicts rather than project related conflicts. During project team building or development there are four phases which every team normally passes through, namely: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Every Team member is expected to exercise teamwork abilities at every phase of team development. Effective teamwork is the cooperative effort by members of a team to accomplish a common goal.

What is a conflict?

Every project team is formed either from employees that have expert knowledge on the project due to their past involvement on similar projects, employees with little or no specialized knowledge, people from different technical and personal background and people from diverse age groups. As a result of different views, ideas, opinions and beliefs, an act of disagreement, quarrel, misunderstanding and conflict may arise. Therefore, conflict can be defined as a struggle between two parties who perceive their goals as incompatible.

You might be wondering if conflict within a team is good or bad. The answer to this question is two-fold, firstly it is good when effectively resolved because it gives an opportunity to gain new information, consider alternatives, develop better solutions to problems and enhance team building. Also, it is good when it leads to problem solving that avoids unresolved disputes that can lead to project problems and project claims. Other benefits of good conflict management involve increased creativity and productivity, positive working environment, development of stronger mutual respect and improved ability to work together as a Team, I mean a Team with increased cohesion. Secondly, conflict is bad because it foster teamwork break down and talent is wasted as people disengage from the work.

In order to understand the concept of a conflict it is important to know that there are three players namely:

  • The persecutor – the initiator of the conflict.
  • The victim – the perceived individual affected by the conflict.
  • The Rescuer – the person who intervened to bring a resolution.

Signs and symptoms of a conflict situation

For your particular project team it is vital to watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Complaints.
  • Gossip.
  • Finger pointing.
  • Employee(s) not responding adequately to work related issues as before.
  • Hostility.
  • Absenteeism and a host of other unusual attitude and behaviour.

Causes of Conflicts:

   1.    One of the most important barrier to team development is poor or no communication problem:

                  i. Among Team members.

  • Conflict within the individual which is also known as inner conflict.
  • Conflict between two members of the team.
  • Conflict between an individual and the whole team.

                  ii. Between project Leader and Team.

                iii. Between project Team and top Management.

                iv. Between project Leader and the Client.

   2.    Lack of skills and abilities in team members.

   3.    Conflict of interest and/or attitude, personality conflict and personal problems.

   4.    Unresolved prior conflicts.

   5.    Lack of clarity in purpose, goals, objectives, team and individual roles and stress resulting from this situation.

   6.    Employee under the control of multiple bosses at the same time.

   7.    Goals of the project not agreed upon.

   8.    Disagreement of the project priorities.

   9.    Conflicting work schedules. Conflict over control and confrontations.

When conflicts do arise within the project team, there are two sides to it. The first one is the issue of the conflict itself which can be seen as simple or complex conflict. Secondly, there is emotional side which include among other things; frustration, anger, confusion, hurt, worry and disappointment. Conflict issue can be a disagreement, misunderstanding or misrepresentation over data or facts, process or methods, purpose and values.

Conflict Management Techniques

The five main styles of dealing with conflict according to Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann are:

  • Withdrawing, otherwise known as avoiding. It provides temporary solution to simple conflicts. Avoiding does not solve the problem.
  • Soothing, also referred to as accommodating. This is a temporary solution also but it can help keep friendly atmosphere.
  • Forcing or competitive. This is a win-lose situation which, encourages antagonism.
  • Collaborating. This leads to consensus and commitment. In order to achieve consensus as the best tool for conflict management you need to assume the role of facilitator, identify common ground and fully analyze each position.

Apart from the above technique, there are other approaches to resolving team conflict such as:

Approach 1

  • Confronting the conflict or problem solving approach. It involves collection of information, development of alternatives, analysis and selection. Both parties can eventually be satisfied using this approach.

Approach 2 (Negotiation)

  • Establish the cause of conflict.
  • Bring the conflicting parties together.
  • If the project Manager is a part of the conflict, invite in a third party without emotional involvement in the conflict.
  • Involve the two parties on suggestions on how to resolve the conflict.
  • Help them arrive at a compromise.

Approach 3

  • Listen to words and observe non-verbal clues and body language.
  • Acknowledge the conflict, by showing understanding of the victim’s point of view but this does not necessary mean agreement.
  • Respond with your own point of view through constructive feedback and other alternative suggestions.
  • Resolve remaining differences and break the problem down to manageable parts.

Conflict Mitigation Plan

Mitigation can mean the actions to be taken to reduce the likelihood of conflict occurring or to reduce its impact on the project. Here are some of the steps you can take:

  • Before the start of the project, arrange for project orientation meeting.
  • Establish an effective project team with understanding of the project objective, clear expectation of roles and responsibilities and high level of trust.
  • Ensure channels of communication are clearly defined, for instance development of communication plan.
  • Well defined plan of activities to be in place.
  • Make available the resources necessary for team members to achieve their goals.
  • Frequent project status review.
  • Progress reports to be distributed to all team members so as to be aware of project activities.
  • Status review meetings and problem solving meetings to be organised. The benefit of such meetings outweighs the perceived non-chargeable time or billable time.
  • Soft skills training in human relations.
  • Encouraging an environment of mutual respect.
  • Establish project tracking record which can detail any changes or pending decisions or information awaiting approval form the Client or Consultant.
  • Establish a formal conflict resolution procedure as part of the office manual documentation and to be made available to all staff members.

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