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Resolving Conflict Within a Project Team

Jan Underdown Jan Underdown

Published: 13th March 2018

Everyone can’t always get along, and sooner or later there will be a project conflict within a team. Recognising and dealing with it properly can help your team move forward together.

Conflict on a group project is often unavoidable but can be healthy and helpful in the progression of the project. How you deal with conflict says a lot about your project management skills and can be the difference between you being an effective project manager and simply an acceptable leader.

Everyone manages project conflict within their team differently but with business, it is usually measured using the Thomas-Kilmann model of conflict resolution. This model offers 5 common ways that people manage conflict and explains how effective those management styles are.

Each stage describes how assertive and focussed on our own needs we are, or how cooperative and accepting of other’s needs we are when dealing with conflict. Let’s examine these 5 different approaches.

1. Competing

If this is your style, then you will be mainly concerned with satisfying your own needs and prioritising your own opinion. Managers with this style will often argue their case and put forward the benefits of the approach they favour and will not be interested in listening to the benefits of any other approach or method. Team leaders with this style of conflict management will sometimes not even involve their team in any decision-making process and will make all the choices themselves without input from others working on the same project.

2. Avoiding

Neither pursuing your own needs or the needs of anyone else will leave problems unresolved and can mean important decisions are simply brushed under the carpet and delays or mistakes can happen. True collaboration can only happen when disagreements of opinion are accepted and examined; if you simply say that decisions will be made later or are not important to avoid conflict, you simply sweep aside the issue, and no one is left satisfied.

3. Accommodating

Accommodating is the almost exact opposite to competing; a manager with this style of conflict management will be concerned with satisfying the needs of others and will disregard their own needs or opinions. This is not always the best approach either as you are project manager for a reason and you need to be able to trust your opinions and experience. This can result in resentment on your behalf.

4. Collaborating

The complete opposite to avoiding. This style examines the issue and identifies the needs and wishes of all parties to find a solution to suit all. This usually ends in creative avenues being used which allow each party to have their most pressing requirements met, and their concerns addressed. Conflict can be turned into a positive, but this process can often be the lengthiest option.

5. Compromising

This style is a mix of all the 4 previous conflict management styles. It is a balance of assertiveness and cooperation with one party getting some of the features that they value in exchange for some of the features or the method which you or another party requires. However, this can sometimes lead to an ill-conceived halfway house solution which isn’t fit for purpose.

There is no perfect solution to project conflict management as each project and team is different and different circumstances may require you to consider and use a variety of these styles. If you are studying for project management qualifications you will probably look at all of these styles so that when the time comes, you can use all of your skills to best manage conflict within your team.


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