Tips for Resolving Conflict on Your Project Team

by Diane Hamilton, Adjunct Faculty, Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development
March 8, 2018

Throughout the life cycle of your project, it isn’t a matter of if there will be conflict, it is a matter of when. Conflicts are inevitable. They arise around issues like administrative, technical, differences of opinion, failure to follow through, behavioral and/or interpersonal challenges, just to name a few.

Ideally, you want to avoid conflict on your project team before it occurs. But, let’s admit it, anytime a team forms, conflict will follow. While you can minimize conflict on the team, you can’t avoid it 100 percent. Before we talk about how to resolve conflicts on the team, let’s discuss how to minimize the number of conflicts that actually occur.

Diane Hamilton, Adjunct Faculty, Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development

Ways to Minimize Potential Conflicts

  • Focus on task, team, and individual needs
    • The task needs to be clear and have specific outcomes and measures
    • The team process should be characterized by clear roles, openness, participation, shared decision-making, and trust
    • The individual must have the resources and information to be able to contribute and share responsibility for the outcomes
  • Jointly set ground rules with the project team
  • Clarify vision and direction with the project sponsor and the project team
  • Include team members and other appropriate stakeholders in the planning process
  • Clarify expectations; outline goals, and outcomes
  • Ask for commitment
  • Outline communication needs and develop a communication plan
  • Where possible, play to team member strengths
  • Monitor progress and give regular feedback (positive and constructive)
  • Celebrate successes along the way

Moving from Conflict to Resolution

While all project team members have the responsibility to address and resolve conflicts, it is the project manager’s responsibility to understand the conflict, explore the issues surrounding it, and proactively address the situation.

The following fundamentals of conflict resolution will help the project manager (and team) move from conflict to resolution.

  • Avoid seeing conflict in negative terms. Strive to accept conflict as an inevitable part of the project work environment and a force by which improvement can result. Think of conflict as an opportunity for creative energy and new ideas to emerge
  • When conflicts arise, acknowledge them and bring open them up. Don’t avoid it and hope it goes away over time. Clearly define what it is and what caused it
  • Create the time necessary to work through a conflict resolution process. Sweeping conflict under the rug or addressing it by throwing out a sarcastic remark rarely addresses the situation. The people who can read between the lines and decipher your cryptic message are often the ones who don’t need to receive it. The ones you want to catch on, often don’t
  • Focus on resolving the conflict, not placing blame. Seek to understand through active listening skills and allow the various parties to vent their feelings and opinions
  • Focus on facts. Opinions should be supported by facts and specific behaviors. Study the conflict and gather information about the situation and what led to it. In conflict, facts are your friends. Don’t allow someone to tell their story in generic terms (e.g., “They always do this.”) Force facts and specific examples
  • Help each individual involved in the conflict recognize their role in the conflict as well as in identifying solution alternatives and resolving the issue(s)
  • Once an appropriate solution has been agreed upon and an action plan developed, jointly assign responsibilities for implementation/execution. Hold everyone to their commitments
  • Rely on your project team ground rules to help support the conflict resolution process

Taking an active role in conflict management and conflict resolution helps to ensure a successful project team environment.

Diane Hamilton teaches Project Leadership Communication for the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development. For more information, please contact [email protected]