Assessing the Conflict Situation
Now you know the characters, so what do you do when conflict rears its ugly head? First, you will need to assess the nature of the conflict and who the featured players are. A conflict can manifest itself at various levels:
Is it a conflict between two individuals on the project team?
Is it a conflict between two groups of individuals?
Is it a conflict between one individual and the rest of the team?
Is it a conflict between one individual and management, sponsors, stakeholders, or you?
Is it a conflict of a moral or ethical nature, between one or more team members and their beliefs?
Is there a conflict between your team and an outside source?
Conflict is not always two team members not getting along. Several variation son the theme of conflict can arise within a project. There are also levels of disagreement, ranging from petty arguments to threats, legal action, or violence.
Gathering the necessary facts is essential to successfully resolving a conflict. One side of the story, and sometimes both sides, will not provide the entire picture if the conflict is based on an occurrence or series of activities. Make sure you find out all the details before taking action.
You, therefore, need to assess who the conflict is between and its level of severity. You also need to assess where this conflict fits in the scheme of the project. Does it stem from something internal? Is the argument over the process that the project is following, or is the dispute about politics, parking spaces, or another issue that is external to the actual project but causing friction or tension that is affecting the success of the project?
Conflicts frequently arise during the initiation phase of the project based on scheduling, task assignments, work distribution, and clarity of the tasks to be performed. Often, people disagree about how long a task should take, or because they are being given more of the workload than someone else. As the project progresses, the team generally settles into a comfortable rhythm and adapts to each of the varying personalities, but at the beginning, team members can be resentful if they feel they are carrying more of the weight. This occurs most frequently in volunteer projects when there is nothing personal at stake. In these cases, the best you can do is remind the individual of the value of his own work and diminish the concern about what others are or aren't doing.
Before returning to how to deal with the various configurations of conflicts mentioned earlier, let's look at several ways to successfully manage them.