Solving conflicts in the team - how do you go about it?

Teamwork makes the dream work. Sure, that's how it should be. But teamwork does not always mean success. Everyone has experienced that conflicts arise in teams - from a small squabble to a giant brawl. You are the project manager and therefore you have the important and not always easy task of defusing conflicts in the team, solving them or, where possible, even avoiding them in the first place. As the PM, you are the interface and the point where processes converge. However, it is precisely at this point that people converge - and thus the potential conflicts in a project landscape. Time is a significant factor, because the longer a conflict festers or is even openly acted out, the longer it can have a negative impact on motivation, on productivity and ultimately on your project success. The sooner you recognize a conflict and try to eliminate it, the higher the chances that it will not develop into a full-blown éclat.
Three hands each reach out to the other and are connected by colored threads.

First assess the order of magnitude

Conflicts come in all sizes, as I said. First, try to analyze what type of conflict it is and how serious it is. Does the problem affect the entire company? Is it a structural problem, an interpersonal issue, or a technical issue? Is the conflict between departments or teams, or within a team between individual employees? Countless factors play a role here. Conflicts are more likely to occur in an uncertain environment, for example, when your company is undergoing change, when there is short-time work or, in the worst case, when its very existence is threatened. If layoffs are imminent, then everyone's nerves are on edge. Or is just the opposite the case and your company is currently under immense work pressure and has more to cope with than usual? This situation is also a breeding ground for conflict. In both cases, acute overwork as well as existential anxiety, an open conversation is the best strategy. Motivating communication and an appeal to persevere help in both situations. In addition, employees must be informed about the status of the company. Uncertainty usually has a toxic effect. Show your employees that you are grateful for their hard work and patience. But also show them that the current situation is temporary. Of course, don't keep bad news a secret. In any case, do not make promises that you may not be able to keep.

In case of internal team conflicts

Someone may feel left out of a decision or there has been a misunderstanding. The harmony suffers or is already completely lost. In this case, you should refer to the team itself and remind everyone again why they are working together. Are the controllers and the creative minds fighting each other, the old and the new, or even the genders in the team? The key here is to point out the commonalities -- first and foremost, the common goal. Group activities can help, as can conversations in which the vision of success is vividly recalled to everyone. Small gestures such as a shared morning coffee or a piece of cake every Friday afternoon can also help to bring the team closer together again.

In case of interpersonal conflicts

Interpersonal problems can often lead to people working against each other instead of with each other. This is, of course, a disaster for any type of project work. Often, interpersonal conflicts are limited to two individuals. If you let this type of conflict fester longer, it can turn into a group fight, so again, it's important to act quickly. In a conflict that is just beginning to build, talking to the two parties in the conflict is usually the best way to address the issue.

Address everything openly. However, if the situation is already so messed up that there is open hostility, it may be a good idea to have a preliminary conversation with each of the disputants first so that both sides can be heard calmly. In joint discussions, which are inevitable at some point, you should make it clear as a mediator that you do not want to take sides, but as a moderator will assist both to find an ideal solution to the problem. In any case, also point out that conflict resolution does not allow for any delay and that a solution must be found urgently - for the good of the project and the working atmosphere in the team. Depending on the severity of your conflict, you can think about bringing in a trained moderator or mediator.

Communication is king

Ultimately, everything boils down to improved communication. Sure, there are the troublemakers, the know-it-alls, the alpha animals who always want to patronize everyone else. Having someone like that on your team often requires different measures, but in general, it makes sense to keep your team on track through targeted and positive communication while keeping yourself on top of the team dynamics. A communication guide can help, as can a communication seminar. The guide helps everyone avoid misunderstandings. Far too often, conflicts arise from minor carelessness and oversights, such as someone forwarding an email to only one employee but not the other. The trade-off between "this is not so important - we get far too many e-mails anyway" and "I'd better send this to everyone, who knows who it concerns" should be facilitated by clear guidelines.
However, a seminar or coaching may be necessary if conflicts have already arisen several times due to misguided communication. As a last resort, mediation by a professional is always available. However, try kindness, common sense and logic first.
Author: IAPM internal 

Key words: Project management, Team, Guide, Tips

The IAPM certification

The certification can be taken via a reputable online examination procedure. The costs are based on the gross domestic product of your country of origin.

From the IAPM Blog

Become a Network Official

Do you want to get involved in project management in your environment and contribute to the further development of project management? Then become active as an IAPM Network Official or as a Network Official of the IAPM Network University. 

For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.