IFIf your biggest workplace conflict con- sists of telling the guy down the hall to shut his door when he’s using his peakerphone, consider yourself lucky. Slashed budgets, scope creep, personality clashes and office politics
can all fuel confrontation. Maybe
one stakeholder doesn’t want to wait
around another week for the latest round of bells and whistles that
another stakeholder simply cannot
live without. Perhaps a team member
is silently stewing over some perceived slight in the morning meeting.
Even a simple desk rearrangement
can escalate into a major showdown
over disputed territory.
And more often than not, it’s the
project managers who must broker
the peace deal.
The best way to turn down the
heat on simmering disagreements is
to address them before they flare
up—extinguishing potential tensions
when they’re little more than signal
fires on the horizon.
STAKEHOLDERS AT STAKE
It comes down to the physics of
project management: A project can’t
go in two directions at once. Two
stakeholders with significantly different visions can, and will, cripple a
project—and it happens all the time.
“It’s a common dynamic on many
projects,” says Ngozi Watts, business
developer at WMS, a video game
designer and manufacturer in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
The ramifications of two project stakeholders at odds with each
other cascade down, says Mary Osswald, senior manager of asset operations and reporting at Kamehameha
Schools, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Clearly determining each stakeholder’s vision for the project’s final
destination is step one in curtailing
“Sometimes we think we know
what those interests are,” Mr. Watts
says. “But the onus is on the project
manager to peel back that onion and
really understand at a very intimate
and detailed level what the interests
of the various stakeholders are. Then
go through the exercise of figuring
out where those interests may align.”
You’ll never completely compre-
hend a person’s opinions and objec-
tives unless you dig.
Sometimes conflict rears its ugly head
within the project team itself.
The discord can grow out of a lack
of understanding—an inability or
refusal of the warring factions to recognize each other as working on the
same team for a common goal. Left to
fester, enmity between colleagues can
quickly escalate and halt a project’s
It’s an age-old problem that even
the finest minds in business have yet
to solve. Short of some new epiphany,
project managers just have to go in
and do whatever it takes to facilitate
“You can’t let your project fail on
a couple of people not getting along,”
Ms. Osswald says.
On many teams, it comes down
to a battle between the old and new
guard, she says. People are, by nature,
averse to change and they don’t necessarily appreciate a fresh perspective.
New additions are often met with a
frosty skepticism. “There’s an immediately distinct view: ‘You don’t know