Have you ever worked in a project team where someone, or sometimes multiple someones, seem determined to create conflict, no matter what? When you say black, they invariably say white, and when you try to make a decisive move to get something done it appears that they want to block you every time. If you have never had to work with an un-cooperative team member then you are very fortunate. Whilst not all projects I have worked on had such a person, many of them did. Sometimes it was the person I would least expect who seemed to want to scupper the chances of the project being a success, because on previous projects I viewed them as one of my greatest allies.
The truth is that people are just people, and it is human nature for people to react differently in different situations. But as a project manager it is important, even vital, to find a way to overcome such problems and to break down the barriers to building a cooperative and mutually supportive team. Consider some of the major barriers to cooperation within the team, and how they might be overcome.
1. Not controlling your reactions
How does it feel when someone disagrees with you? Hurtful? Does it make you feel combative? Your reaction to an uncooperative action by a team member determines not only what happens next but sets the tone for maybe the whole of the project, so think carefully before you act. Entering into a battle of wills is never going to produce a good outcome either on a personal level or for the project as a whole. Similarly simply giving in to unreasonable demands is only going to undermine your authority as a project manager; it may resolve short-term tensions but can lead to longer term problems within the team. Aim to explore the reasons why a person is behaving in an un-cooperative way, and uncover their issues so you can make steps to resolve them.
2. Emotional Overflow
Anger, tears and aggression are not normal reactions for professional people, and if you have someone who is becoming emotional at work, there is usually an underlying reason for this. Consider what might be going on in that person’s personal and professional life before rushing in to make a judgement. Often a state of mistrust or fear can elicit a negative and outwardly uncooperative response. Rather than just labelling them as a troublemaker, take the time to discuss their situation and find out if there is an underlying reason for their reactions. Remember that the role of the project manager is varied and your ultimate aim is to build a co-operative, motivated team in order to deliver a successful outcome.
3. The Unwilling Team Member
Maybe the person concerned felt that they should have been project manager on this task or, at least, been given a more senior role. Maybe they are dissatisfied with the level of responsibility or autonomy they are allowed. Look past their grouchy nature and negativity and try to find out what you can do to make things work better for them; it will make your life easier and is more likely to motivate the individual concerned.
4. No Backing Down
Sometimes people get so involved in arguments or disagreements that they feel to back down is an admission of defeat. Rather than letting them see the situation as a win-lose scenario, let them take the lead on coming up with a solution to the issue. Let them help you to find a win-win situation that satisfies their own ego as well as actioning a workable solution for the whole team.
5. Wanting To Be Top Dog
If you have a team member aiming to climb the greasy pole, you may find they are reacting with a dog-eat-dog attitude simply to advance their own career at your expense. After all, why would they want all the best ideas and solutions to come from your project when they want to bask in the glory of being brilliant themselves? In this situation you need to assert your authority as project manager through careful planning and professionalism. Reinforce that this is a team effort, and let them know that cooperation will lead to mutual reward at the end of the project.