Conflict Management in Project Teams

-By Trenton Rankin

Conflict management is something that every project manager should be well versed. Regardless of how big or small a project can be, team members might not know each other well. These situations usually result in conflict as pressure builds and project deadlines come into focus throughout the lifecycle. Problems such as these are commonly unavoidable, so how should you handle conflict? The PMI states that “conflict is the result of a difference of perception, opinion, or beliefs among people” (Villax & Anantatmula, 2010). Does this mean you should help to avoid the conflict? My personal view is to embrace conflict as natural and turn the negativity into something positive. Firstly, I try to discover the source of conflict, then resolve that conflict as efficiently as possible.

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There could be several causes of conflict within a project team, usually related to scope, cost, or priorities. Remember that the PMBOK Guide mentions that project environments have unavoidable conflicts (Project Management Institute, 2017, p. 348). Which style of conflict resolution works best for conflict resolution? The simple answer is there is no simple answer, as every conflict is different. Sometimes, a project manager must put their foot down and be autocratic, stating that the project will continue as the PM sees fit and everyone else can go pound sand. Avoiding the conflict will not solve anything unless you require more time to analyze the situation to resolve it a short time later. Smoothing things over is useful but not always practicable. This style focuses on the individual and looks at the relationship between them for a common-ground agreement. Again, like avoidance, smoothing is not a very practical approach in most situations. Compromise is one of the few styles that tend to be more effective than others, where you can focus on splitting the difference and satisfying most aspects of the conflict quickly.

The most effective style is the problem-solving style, which I have found nearly 100% effective in conflict resolution. With proper planning and analysis of the team dynamics from the start, a project manager can effectively anticipate conflict and prepare to handle said conflict with ease. If you can effectively gauge someone’s emotional intelligence in a team setting, you can apply problem-solving techniques to resolve that conflict even faster. Some people wear their emotions and opinions on their sleeves. Others keep their feelings held close to the chest. Conflicts usually result from emotions boiling over, so knowing what level of emotional “IQ” a person is very beneficial to conflict resolution. Combine the emotional IQ level with problem-solving styles, and you are almost guaranteed successful outcomes in those situations. Successful Project Management states that “depending on the magnitude and complexity of the problem, the…problem-solving process can take a few hours or several months” (Gido et al., 2017, p. 390).

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Knowing how to problem-solve, understand emotional “IQ” levels, and understand that conflict is unavoidable are the three takeaways from this article. Disagreements should be seen as a positive thing and beneficial so that a project manager can use them to build the team-up. Problem-solving is necessary for a PM to use and knowing the different conflict resolution styles is beneficial regardless of which approach applies to the situation. Emotional intelligence is something everyone has and effective and efficient project leaders understand where each team member stands with their specific IQs and can effectively resolve conflicts with this knowledge.

References:

Gido, J., Clements, J., & Baker, R. (2017). Successful project management (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge: PMBOK guide (6th ed.). Project Management Institute, Inc.

Villax, C. & Anantatmula, V. S. (2010). Understanding and managing conflict in a project environment. Paper presented at PMI® Research Conference: Defining the Future of Project Management, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Bio: I am 35 years old, currently a warehouse manager for SouthernCarlson, Inc., and am set to graduate with a BS in Project Management by the end of 2021. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and five highly active daughters, ranging from 13 years old to 4 months. I rarely use social media these days, as I am either deeply involved in work projects or spending as much time with my family as I possibly can outside of work. My immediate short-term goal is to utilize all the project management knowledge I have been gaining towards effective and successful project resolutions in my workplace. From there, the sky is the limit! Always feel free to reach out to me with questions, concerns, comments, and so on. LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/trentonrankin/

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