No team is immune to internal conflict—especially in an environment as stressful as project management. Personalities will clash. Disagreements will occur. Circumstances can change. But the project manager has to stay in control through it all and make sure the project itself doesn’t suffer.
Here are a few ways you can do that:
Step in Immediately
It sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many project managers—either through ignorance or apathy—let internal conflict between two team members escalate (especially if it stems from a personal disagreement).
Get involved as soon as you can. The moment you notice something, or are told, step in immediately with both feet. “Waiting it out” will only make it worse.
Treat them Like Adults
Your team members aren’t ten years old anymore. They’re old enough to handle responsibility, and to put those responsibilities in front of personal needs. They need to be able to work out problems in a professional fashion, and you have to remind them of that.
But don’t talk down to them like they’re children. Even if you promote a “family environment”, you’re not their parent. Listen to their concerns. Treat them with respect. And don’t lose your cool, because it’ll only encourage them to lose theirs.
Look Beneath the Surface
Sometimes an argument is just a symptom of a deeper problem. Are two of your managers fighting over resources? Instead of deciding who has priority, maybe you should hire more people. Are people frustrated about being kept out of the loop? Maybe you need to change the process to foster better communication.
Give them a Break
People change when placed under constant stress (and not always for the better). Tempers fray. People get snappish. Minor conflicts get overblown.
Taking a breather does miracles for employee morale. Not necessarily an afternoon off (although that would be nice), but even activities completely unrelated to work. Fun activities, things that people would actually want to attend, instead of half-baked, touchy-feely “motivational” exercises. The former takes people’s mind off work, and the latter just makes people want to go back to work.
Do What’s Necessary, Not What’s Nice
If the internal conflict between two people has gotten so bad that it’s affecting productivity, then you have to do something drastic. Being the mediator is well and good, but if you have to take sides to end a conflict, then do it. You’re not playing favorites. You’re just doing what’s needed to keep the project moving.
Project managers always have the option of going to HR, but I see this as a cop-out. As leaders, you should always have a pulse on your team and be able to keep them productive even through difficult internal conflicts. Because that’s the kind of team that builds wonders.
Image credit, Flickr, Bren Barnes