Handling Conflict

by ts8richardson

There has been some team conflict this week and it has been an interesting challenge to work through that conflict to get to a result the team is comfortable with.

The scope of the project was too big, and decisions needed to be made about which aspects to focus on in order to move forward. A meeting was called to discuss scope, but not all team members could attend. A few team members talked about a new direction they wanted to take and presented the idea to the team a few days later. Some of the team were not happy with the new idea as it was presented, and other members of the team were frustrated at the lack of acceptance, wanting the decision to be made so next steps could be taken. In the course of the meeting, team members presented their ideas, the ideas were discussed and some aspects challenged, the idea started to evolve and the meeting ended with a hybrid concept of the team’s positions which was written down and agreed to. I think the team came out a little frustrated at the long meeting and difficult process of compromise, but I also think it was a successful outcome for what could have been a breaking point in the project as team members had strong opinions and feelings.

Reflecting on this experience, some things I think we did very well:

  • Everyone was given a chance to express their opinions and defend their position respectfully, and everyone did contribute to the debate
  • Each team member was finally willing to compromise and move past their own, strong opinions (myself included, I hope!)
  • After a long discussion about the merits of the ‘new’ idea vs the ‘old’ idea, team members started making suggestions about how to combine the best of both ideas to ensure we didn’t throw away work we had already done, but so it took a direction other team members were happy with
  • We finalised an idea, with features or aspects we could all agree on, wrote it down as a team, checked back for agreement
  • Agreed on next steps and ensured everybody felt they could move forward and keep working based on the new direction

Reading about conflict resolution, I feel quite proud we ticked off most of the guidelines for effective conflict resolution:

  • Dealing with conflict immediately – avoid the temptation to ignore it.
  • Being open – if people have issues, they need to be expressed immediately and not allowed to fester.
  • Practicing clear communication – articulate thoughts and ideas clearly.
  • Practicing active listening – paraphrasing, clarifying, questioning.
  • Practicing identifying assumptions – asking yourself “why” on a regular basis.
  • Not letting conflict get personal – stick to facts and issues, not personalities.
  • Focusing on actionable solutions – don’t belabor what can’t be changed.
  • Encouraging different points of view – insist on honest dialogue and expressing feelings.
  • Not looking for blame – encourage ownership of the problem and solution.
  • Demonstrating respect – if the situation escalates, take a break and wait for emotions to subside.
  • Keeping team issues within the team – talking outside allows conflict to build and fester, without being dealt with directly.
Resolving Team Conflict – Team Management Training [WWW Document], n.d. Mindtools. URL http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_79.htm (accessed 3.17.13).

Some of the things I think the team (myself included) could work on:

  • This felt like a bit of a hijack- a couple of team members felt that if others weren’t at the meeting, then they missed out and the team needed to make a big decision without them. I don’t feel this was a good approach the problem- a big decision needed everyone there to participate and the meeting could have been postponed. As PM, I could have called the meeting at a time when everyone was available and made sure everyone knew the agenda, avoiding the ‘bomb drop’.
  • Not everyone was on the same page. I wasn’t worried about scope because I had felt the User Research would help to limit scope. Other team members felt the scope needed to be limited immediately in order to do User Research. Also, the team had very different ideas about what the initial idea was. There clearly wasn’t good enough communication and discussion about the initial idea, especially with newer team members. This could have been headed off with more conferencing about what the idea was in the beginning.
  • Backing down. If I believe in something, I do have trouble backing down, and it was hard to let my idea go, especially when I think another approach is really going to be unsuccessful. I found it frustrating that other team members didn’t ‘think like me’ or see it the way I did, or (the worst for me!), didn’t care what we did, as long as we chose something. It was a lesson in humility and compromise.