Category: Room for inspiration

The door to the Room for Inspiration is opened 24 hours a day. It its meant to help put things into a perspective and to discover ways your project management skills can make a difference. Inspiration is a free commodity. I just have to open my eyes and look around me. Sometimes a bird building her nest can help you learn a trick or too about project management for house building :)

Things we do in projects: managing conflict between team members

It was my first week in a new project manager’s job. I got a phone call from Avery – a consultant on the team – who sounded distressed and wanted to urgently meet. I agreed immediately and we met that afternoon.

Almost sobbing, she told me that her male colleague undermines her position and makes her efforts futile. She went on and on. The word “harassment” was in the air. From her narrative, it seems that it was happening for months, if not years. I asked her if she talked about her experience with the previous three project managers this project had. “No”, she admitted, and said she was “not able to take it anymore”…

I offered her a number of options, including to involve human resources, as she mentioned harassment.  She agreed with the option of both of them meeting in my presence. I called our other colleague and we met couple of days later over a cup of coffee, on a neutral territory.

– Avery has something to tell you, Nick.

Avery was hesitating but it was too late to retrieve from the face-to-face. With some encouragement, she voiced her concerns. I could see Nick was in shock.

After the meeting he came by my office.

– I am shocked, he said.

– Yes, I saw.

– She spent her Sundays in my house, having wine with me and my wife, over the last two years. We work on a daily-basis… Now to hear all that and the bitterness in her voice…

I listened to his account of events. We agreed that he will think about what he can do on the points she raised. He was to remove all issues she could have potentially thought of as red flags in her communication with their common client.

As a project manager, I reassigned the assistant they shared, so there would be no suspicion of unwanted information passing from one office to another. Nick also arranged for the client to give her an honorary award. Needless to say, they did not have wine together after that. As things evolved in next months, we could see she liked her victim’s role and was soon after another colleague.

Two years later, Nick died of cancer. I always wondered if that story did not trigger it.

This story taught me many things. It taught me empathy and its dark side. It also reminded me to:

  • Observe the interaction between team members and stay informed.
  • Listen to both sides.
  • Do what you can to help overcome the conflict by giving both sides an equal opportunity to voice their concerns.
  • Do not allow for self-victimisation on the team. It serve no purpose.
  • Take things seriously and involve Human Resources or mediators when there are indications of inappropriate behaviour and disrespect.
  • Stay alert to the need to revisit team members’ communication needs and channels and eventually redistribute roles within the team.
  • Last but not least, act with integrity.

 

* names are changed.

How to maintain collaboration between project team members who do not like each other

A very good colleague of mine – Peter – told me once “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 have examples of “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:b2d06893c54fd55be2c739138ea5f712

  1. Observe to be able to prevent and to react, as appropriate.
  2. Learn about what’s behind the tension by listening. Truly listening to both sides.
  3. Clarify what’s in your power to change. Can you:
  • redistribute roles based on team members’ strengths?
  • offer 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 inter-personal and communication 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.