If there is one thing we can expect from working in project management it’s conflict. Due to the nature of projects – working to provide a solution to something we’ve probably never done before will mean there are problems to solve; people to bring onside; teams to work together and any number of expectations to be met.
Believe it or not, some conflict is good and helps us uncover answers to problems that enable the project to move on and be delivered successfully.
Over the next few weeks we are going to cover several different frameworks, approaches and techniques that the modern project practitioner can utilise in their day-to-day work that make a difference to people and their performance levels. We also share ten different things your PMO can be thinking about to make a real difference to the performance of your PMO.
We’re going to look at the following areas:
In this second article of our PMOs Supporting Modern Project Management series, we take a look at conflict management.
First up, how is it defined:
There are plenty of different types of conflict in a working environment which can stem from disagreements between people through to the more serious such as bullying or harassment.
It’s also difficult to precisely define because one person’s perception of a difficult situation can differ from another.
In a 2020 report from CIPD – the professional body for HR and people management, the main sources of conflict in the modern workplace was:
In a project environment with many people working closely together, often under time pressures, conflicts can arise between team members; the Project Manager and the team; the PMO and the delivery organisation – you name it, conflict will happen.
One thing that is clear is conflict does have some positive aspects to it, highlighted here:
There’s a great, highly readable book we recommend called Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together which is brilliant at highlighting the positives aspects of conflict. It’s also important to be able to argue well and it’s those types of skills that many of us just haven’t had the time to learn. This book is a great at getting you thinking about how you could do things differently.
Conflict in Project Management
A study conducted in 1982, which is still highly relevant today, shows where in the project lifecycle we are likely to find conflict.
The interesting part of these findings are the rankings – how different sources feature more highly than others at different phases of the project.
Conflict Management Strategies
One of the most popular models often taught in project management courses is the Thomas-Kilmann Model. It’s aim is conflict resolution and how to find the best way to resolve the conflict.
Nicely described in this short video:
The Conflict Resolution model from Dinsmore, takes it a step further:
And a different approach here that looks at causes and consequences and the contingencies needed:
Prevention is Better Than Cure
It is widely acknowledged that trying to prevent conflicts from escalating is the better course of action – the Lynch Spectrum model below shows the many steps before it gets to the point of seriousness with mediation and arbitration needed.
10 Things to Think About for the PMO
- Team conflict is one we can probably expect in a PMO and it can come from various places such as disagreements over ways to tackle a task; excessive time off leading to overwork in overs; pressures from tough projects – wherever it comes from Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing is a great model to understand.
- Relationship building skills should be one of the most important ones for any PMO leader. It’s not just about creating great working relationships within the PMO team but also with others in the delivery organisation, senior execs and other departments in the organisation.
- Important to handling conflict is not to let disagreements and upsets fester, they need bringing out into the open, understanding and addressing. Having regular one-to-ones with the team helps to bring issues out into the open, and not forgetting that informal conversations can help to try and gauge how people are feeling.
- A strong PMO team is one where everyone has each others backs. Often conflict arises in a team from one member or a minority and managers have to be prepared to step in and deal with the issues. Often a quiet word is all that is needed.
- Each project has its own culture – lead by the Project Manager, and team conduct comes from the leader. From a PMO point of view, we should be prepared to call out situations where professionalism, mutual respect and trust are being ignored. One of the behaviours in the PMO Competency Framework says “provide candid feedback and recommendations in a constructive manner”
- Learn the techniques and approaches utilised in facilitation. The PMO is ideally placed to facilitate sessions for project teams which help them to focus on the issue rather than the process. We can get involved in any stage of the project lifecycle but have to understand which approaches should be used for individual problems.
- Help your delivery organisation to develop its own conflict management policy for a project working. Gain help from the HR department to draft a set of approaches; enlist your delivery community to propose different conflict management resolution approaches that align with organisation culture; run workshops; create leaflets and factsheets. Help create the culture for dealing with project conflicts.
- Fostering collaboration amongst people is one of the ways to avoid conflicts – having a common set of goals; getting everyone’s buy-in and participation; reaffirming the benefits of working together; neutralising attempts to be disruptive or overly competitive; focusing on the outcomes and driving towards the solution. All these things are the bread-and-butter of a good Project Manager leading a team – perhaps some of your PMs could do with the support to do it better?
- The flipside to conflict could be considered to be negotiation. Learning to argue better – – developing mediation skills – understand the approaches to negotiation – even hostage situations! We’re all on the lifelong learning path so take the time to think about which people-focused skills your PMO collectively has and how you could be utilising them better.
- Finally, we can all do better in conflict situations if we remember that the “win-win” or mutual gain situation is where anyone ideally wants to get to. And remember conflict can be good. Maybe the next time you see conflict arising in the projects you support, you could help everyone find the positives in it.