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5 Tips For Resolving Conflicts With Your Project Team

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 3/31/2013

When several personalities become involved in a project, conflicts can arise and slow down progress. This article gives tips and strategies to help you avoid and resolve these types of conflicts.

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    picture Conflict management can be an annoying but very necessary part of managing your resources. If enough conflict exists between team members, projects can be derailed, progress can be delayed, and valuable employees may even quit. Here is a list of tips on how you can prevent and resolve conflicts - before they become a problem.

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    1. Team Building Activities

    By encouraging team building activities among your resources, you can help to prevent conflict. Team building activities help to bring members together. It is important to realizing that "team building" is more than simply throwing together some exercises for members to participate in. The best thing to do is create a sense of team identity. Some like to create t-shirts or logos, some like to participate in games. The important thing to do is think of your resources as a team, and encourage them to view each other as a team. Members have to have motivation to be part of a team. Don't let team building detract from the project, but do spend time on it. Your resources will be more productive as a result.

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    2. Understanding Conflict Roles

    In her article, Conflict Resolution in Project Management, Amy Ohlendorf describes three conflict roles:

    • The Persecutor - a person who uses aggressive behavior toward someone else. The message delivered can either be direct or indirect and it can be either physical or verbal (sometimes both). For example, the office gossip is just as much a persecutor as someone who routinely throws tantrums or threatens others in the office.
    • The Victim - a person who puts a vibe out saying, "I'm not okay." This vibe will cause others to either persecute or rescue him.
    • The Rescuer - Someone who never says "no" and winds up attempting to solve a victim's problem. Other rescuers will do so because it makes them feel superior to the victim.

    According to Ohlendorf, these roles develop in childhood and continue to persist in group situations.

    It is important for project managers to recognize these roles and to nip this sort of role-taking in the bud from the get-go. If you see someone who is consistently the victim, take him aside, talk to them about how he might want to change his role.

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    3. Adopting a "No Tolerance" Policy Is Often Not Enough

    In a perfect world, no-tolerance policies for persecuting behavior would always work. While you should have a no-tolerance approach, you also have to understand that things will go on, and that passive-aggressive persecution is also a problem. Competition between two team members can wreak havoc on your project. Imagine for a moment that one team member, Bill, has been with the company for years and hopes to get a promotion. On the other hand, Joe has just started, and started in a higher position than Bill did. Now the two are in your team and they constantly try to one-up each other. The problem? They wind up making mistakes, and the work environment has a lot of tension. Don't allow this sort of competition, and don't instigate it. Treat all team members equally.

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    4. Encourage Communication

    When you have team members who conflict with one another, the best thing to do is encourage communication - but don't force it. Pull the team members aside. Encourage each to use "I-statements" to express what they are feeling. For example, Mary might say "I feel that when I start work each day I need quiet to be productive." Jane might respond, "I like to listen to music at my desk." Do not allow team members to accuse, blame, or yell at one another.

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    5. Bring in an Expert

    Finally, sometimes a conflict goes deeper than what you are able to fix. Bring in an expert in this case and don't try to handle the problem yourself. This is particularly important in cases of constant harassment or threatened violence. Don't wait to find out what might happen. Contact the appropriate authority/resource to help you solve your team's conflicts.