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Team Conflicts – Is it Good, Bad or Ugly?

As a project manager, I spend most of the time communicating and co-ordinating with team members to execute certain tasks. And, when you work with diverse set of people on board, discrepancies with regards to perspectives, conflict of interests and sundry disputes are bound to happen. Worst, if these spats extend incessantly, they can be a pain in the neck and hinder development. As a manager, I have to address and resolve all the team conflicts in a timely manner to safeguard project objectives and better serve the interest of my client as well as my organization. 

A project team would comprise of people with different skill levels, characters, experiences and attitude. Hence, it is natural that there could be situations where the difference of opinions could rise to conflicts, if not handled properly.

So, How to Deal Squarely with Team Conflicts..?

Understanding Team Conflicts first

Wikipedia says, Team conflict is common in the workplace where it may hinder productivity and the achievement of team goals. If management of conflict is not effective, it can totally disrupt the entire group process but successfully-managed conflict may benefit the group.

Some of the common causes of conflicts are as follows:

  1. Conflicts due to incompatible or competing individual needs, goals , approaches  or working style
  2. Reporting structure of team members to one another
  3. Misunderstanding of job roles
  4. Uncontrolled blame culture
  5. Lack of knowledge of project processes
  6. Fear of failure
  7. Individualistic approach
  8. Lack of effective feedback mechanism
  9. Distrust among team members
  10. Seeking individual recognition
  11. Lack of recognition of the work done by members
  12. Incorrect recognition of work by members

As a manager, it is important to be able to identify, understand the different levels of conflicts and involve to resolve them when necessary. As there can’t be fire without smoke, as a project manager I always keep a close watch on some of the early warning signs like indifferent attitude of team members involving their interaction, body language, behaviour patterns, and email communications etc. It is extremely important to pay attention to non-verbal behaviours too such as crossed-arms, lack of attention, and their sitting postures or when they sit away from me or the team in a meeting. These signs would need to be addressed in a timely manner or else it can get into a greater escalation at a later stage.

Conflict resolution consists of observing, listening and talking. I would consider listening to be most important among these. I always try to see things from the other person’s perspective by “Walking in their shoes”. I would also take the conflicting members over a cup of coffee, discuss on topics outside of the conflicting subjects where they find their views are matching. I would repeat this for next few days and then talk to them individually. Reward the members by a small treat whenever they take initiatives. Repeating these steps would definitely see improvements in their working relationships.

Team conflicts are not bad after all! Team conflicts are like double edged sword. If this is managed well, then it can work like a fuel that propels the team and lead to extremely positive results to the individuals as well as to the project. On the other side, if it’s not managed properly it could be a fire that can destroy you.

As a project manager, I have managed (and still managing) several team conflicts. There are cases where I had to accept that the conflicts cannot be resolved. In such situations it is better to swap the team members in the greater interest of the project and the individuals rather than live with it as it make life tough for all parties involved.

Dileep P

Dileep P

Senior .NET project manager in Trigent with 15+ years of experience. He has done his MCA from Kumaraguru College of Technology. He manages the design and development of .NET projects from Trigent's offshore software development center in Bangalore.