KEEPING THE PEACE
Deborah (Debi) A. Dell, PMP, is the manager of the
Project Management Center of Excellence at IBM,
a PMI Global Executive Council member. She works
from her home in Delray Beach, Florida, USA.
of communications and ensure the rest of the team
didn’t make the same mistake I did.
GET EVERYONE’S INPUT
Gather the group to discuss all thoughts and reactions out in the open, laying the groundwork for
an acceptable resolution to all parties and a better
understanding of one another. Ensure that all views
are heard and understood without judgment. It is
imperative that the project manager remains impartial.
But beware: It is easy for team members to stay
quiet in a group environment, especially during conference or video calls. The project manager needs to
draw out input and agreement. My approach at the
end of a meeting, whether face-to-face or virtual, is
to query each participant individually.
DECIDE ON A RESOLUTION
The project manager must encourage members
to share their positions on what will resolve the
conflict. Discussions should be based on fact, not
emotion, whenever possible.
Sharing past experiences often can provide
needed insight or possible solutions for the project
problem at hand. Such unguarded discussions may
reveal areas of agreement not previously acknowledged or solutions not yet considered.
PREVENT FUTURE CONFLICT
One of the best ways to resolve conflict is to prevent it. Establish a team code of conduct or set
aside time in meetings and at various checkpoints
for team members to share personal interests and
By listening to each team member and acknowledging the team’s strengths and differences, the
project manager can fortify the team environment
with trust and keep conflicts to a minimum. And
that makes project success more likely. PM
Do you remember your first conflict? Was it in the
classroom or on the playground with teammates
or with your parents? Regardless of the actual
event, you learned that the ability to respond to
conflict is fundamental to success. And whether
you’re a kid in school or an adult dealing with
project teams, peer managers, stakeholders and
executives, a well-managed conflict can contribute
to a strong team environment.
All project managers know that conflict is
bound to arise while the project team focuses on
objectives and deliverables. The project manager’s
job is to balance the team’s different views and
experiences. This can be done using the following
simple, structured approach.
IDENTIFY THE CAUSE
Understanding the nature of the conflict is necessary to determine how best to resolve it. It’s tough
to do because each team member brings a unique
personality, culture and skill set to the project.
And with that comes a unique
form of communicating.
Conflict tends to arise from
unclear communication across the
project team. For instance, when
I was a project manager on IBM’s
ThinkPad team and working with
our development team in Japan,
I did not know that acknowledgement of a statement did not
always mean agreement. That led
to a few conflicts. I quickly learned
that my role as the project man-
Sharpen your conflict resolution skills
with these steps to address—and
prevent—trouble on your project team.
BY DEBORAH A. DELL, PMP