In my book, there are several ways to go about managing team conflicts including just dismissing the conflict for a time and hoping it will just go away. Like when a hockey fight breaks out – the referees let it go for awhile to see how it is going to go and they know that if they stop it in the first period right away it's just going to happen again in the second or third period. Watching for a short while also helps you analyze the situation and may help you deal with it more efficiently immediately when you do finally step in to take action.
Here is my 4 step method to team conflict management and resolution. For lack of a better term or perhaps because I like the applicable acronym, I call it my SLAP method of team conflict resolution. Here is what S.L.A.P. stands for...
Stop. This is the first thing we really must do after acknowledging there is a conflict worth addressing and not something that will just likely go away on it's own. It still may be that way and we can hope it will. In fact, probably 100% of us will allow it to go on for a bit like a the hockey fight hoping some clarity comes from it and all you have to do is ignore it or dole out some punishments. I do this daily as a father with conflicts that arise amongst my littlest six kids aged 10 years and under... you can imagine what it would truly be like if I stepped into every one of those “hockey” conflicts. “He said...!”, but “she did...!”... oh give me a break! But you have to eventually stop it so you can discuss rationally with those involved for the betterment of the project, team and customer.
Listen. Next, we realize there really is a need to step in and take some action to keep our team together and productive and to keep the project from going of the tracks, off the timeline, and crashing head on into customer high expectations. You should further want to pluck your fingernails from their very fingernail beds than have your project customer become aware and get involved in any team conflicts going on. So sit the involved parties down and hear what their coflict or differences are. Give everyone the stage – show no favoritism and take no immediate action no matter how crazy or petty someone's gripe may seem to be.
Analyze and address. So you've sat the team down or if it's really just isolated to two or three individuals you may be able to just sit them down and discuss the conflict. What are the issues? Are they legitimate? Can they be easily solved? If you're working with project only resources and they report to a manager somewhere else in the organization... do you need to take it to their supervisor? Do you need to replace one or more resources on the project team? The last thing you want is for your customer to get involved and go to your CEO because once your customer loses confidence in your abilities as a project manager to control and manage your project team that is a major problem for you. You will likely be removed from the project – and quite possibly the organization – as a result. Avoid this at all costs.
It is also recommend to – if at all possible – avoiding needing to replace any project resources. The more you can do to discuss, analyze and resolve within the team is going to be your best solution because replacing project resources in midstream means time, money, a learning curve, and an explanation to the project customer. You may miss a critical project milestone or deliverable date as a result. You may have to wait on the right resource replacement with the proper skill set as well as experiencing a learning curve. It can get ugly and cause significant project timeline and budgetary impacts.
Push on. Finally, push forward with whatever decisions or actions have been mandated by the conflict. Hopefully, it's as simple as a team or team member discussion to air out any differences, fix and move on. Perhaps one resource thought they were getting low end tasks to work on and wanted what another resource was working on because it offered more productive hours and higher visibility. That may be a legitimate issue and maybe you as the project manager made some mistakes in task delegations that led to it or maybe it was necessary based on skill sets and experience. That's for you to work out. But work it out with the team and when everyone is ready and in agreement - and not before and not prematurely – move forward. Take the proper amount of time because moving forward again before the issue is resolved completely is just asking for it to resurface again later in the project – possibly with an even more significant impact to the project.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is team conflict on a critical project can be like a cancer and spread throughout the team. It can cause an otherwise productive and effective team to began to distrust each other, produce errors, and cause delays or even refusals to work on tasks together. 3rd grade behavior could become the norm quickly if it's not caught and resolved efficiently, respectfully, quietly and quickly. Don't let this be one of your projects – consider team conflict a risk to manage on every project and discuss it's potential negative affects from the outset. And make your team meetings such that resources feel comfortable discussing any concerns they may have.
Readers – what's your take on this list... these steps? Do you agree? Have you had to deal with project team member conflicts? Anger management issues (those are always fun!), or times when two project resources just simply couldn't be in the same room with each other? What did you do? Please share and discuss.