It is not unusual for members of the project team to come close and to get romantically involved with clients/beneficiaries or between each other. It happens in particular, although not exclusively, in projects of duration, when interaction lasts and/or is frequent.
A fellow project manager shared a story: a project had been ended by the sponsor because the team leader and the deputy team leader were engaged in an office romance. The project manager saw no problems and took no measures to prevent the conflict of interest. Also, conflicts with other members of the team followed shortly. The result was for a team of 20 to remain without a lucrative contract.
Could things have been different if the project manager would have reacted? The answer is often in the integrity framework of the project team and the commitment of team members to behave accordingly.
Sammy (not the real name) told the project manager that she knows that Peter is romantically involved with the top guy in the client’s organisation, who was also married. Peter had a support function in the team, with little to no interaction with the client. The project manager – Max – asked Sammy not to share her thoughts with other members of the team.
Peter knew Sammy knows and he was fine with that. Max asked for HR advice and analysed all potential consequences in terms of project information flow to the client. It was sensible not to get into a private matter between two adults, was the HR advice. Max redesigned the information flow as to avoid the sharing of information ahead of the project schedule and to prevent any potential conflict of interest. Sammy was in charge of monitoring that. She assumed the role and delivered well. Peter was reminded of the Code of Ethics of the organisation and the values the organisation stood by. No conflict of interest occurred and the project run smoothly to its end.
- set a clear integrity framework and ethics rules;
- place ethics at the center of the project’s culture;
- prevent and solve conflict of interest;
- prevent office politics and mis-perceptions;
- involve Human Resources and professional advice.