A very good colleague of mine – Peter – once told me “At work, there is professionalism, respect and chemistry. It is ideal when you have all three. You can still work with the first two only though”.
Indeed, chemistry is valuable and rare. Not all project teams have it. Sometimes it is possible to create it. Sometimes it is not. We all encountered “cats and dogs” teams or “implosive teams”. Regardless, the project has to be delivered and the client – satisfied.
As a project manager, you might find yourself in-between. The tension might be silent or loud. Team members might want you to deal with it or just, quite the opposite, to not get mixed up.
Over years, I learned that there are a number of things a project manager can do:
- Observe to be able to prevent and to react, as appropriate.
- Learn about what’s behind the tension by listening. Truly listening to both sides.
- Clarify what’s in your power to do. Can you:
- redistribute roles based on team members’ strengths?
- offer safe space for people to get it off their chest?
- give other channels of communication between the “belligerents”? for example, communication through Slack, if they cannot talk to each other, or encourage more face-to-face communication, when misunderstandings arise from written communication.
- replace irreconcilable members of the team on areas which are essential for the project’s success?
4. If the organisation has training opportunities, offer to the members of the team to go to communication or conflict management trainings.
5. Remind everyone of the common objectives the entire team works for. Focus on what the team members have in common, not their dividing lines.
6. Organise informal team gatherings, over a beer or a bowling night or even a battle of any sorts (rap, dance, storytelling). It will offer team members an opportunity to know each other from other perspectives.
7. Above all, lead by example. Team members will often mirror the project manager’s preferences or dislikes. Keep your integrity in check.