Dealing With Conflict in Projects


Dealing with conflict is one of the many tasks you will have to perform in your role as a project manager if you want your project to be a success. Never underestimate the importance of resolving conflicts (even if they might seem trivial) as projects can, and will, be derailed if personality clashes and disagreements are allowed to get out of hand.


Problems of one sort or another will always arise on a project but it is how they are handled by the different personalities within the project team that will determine the effect they have on the overall project. 


One of the best ways to deal with problems and, more importantly, people’s reactions to those problems is to confront the issues early on. If you let disagreements drag on then bad feelings will fester and resolving the conflict will become harder. And the way to confront the issue is by communicating – and I don’t mean an email, but a face-to-face talk. Take the team out for coffee or lunch so that you can talk through the issue on neutral ground and encourage openness and honesty about the issues. I’m always amazed at the positive effect coffee and cake can have on a disgruntled team. Of course, that’s not the solution to all problems but many minor issues can be prevented from escalating by simple human concern for each member of the team.


But do remember that honest communication is not about allowing direct personal criticism. All criticism must be constructive and should not be aimed at personal shortcomings of any one individual (even though we all have them) if you want to build a motivated team that will work collaboratively. 


Accept that there will always be differences of opinion within a team but treat that as a positive aspect of the group as it will ensure a varied flow of ideas and suggestions. Ideas that could be used to solve the problem that caused the conflict in the first place. And as a project manager make a concerted effort to really listen to the team members and give them the opportunity to express themselves.


Conflict often arises because team members are working on interdependent tasks and maybe one task has not been delivered so there is a knock-on effect to other tasks. I always think a project team would do well to reflect on army tactics – soldiers may have personal disagreements but on the battle field they are all on the same side.


A project team will be stronger and more successful if they work as a single unit and put the needs of the group ahead of individual needs. Of course, this is the ideal and not often achieved in my experience but it is worth aiming for. Many courses, in recognised methodologies such as PMP, PRINCE2 or APM PMQ, cover conflict resolution as an integral part of project management training.