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Conflict management


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Project managers must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of disruptive conflict. Such signs would include poor communication among team members, a lack of openness and respect, not showing appreciation, unclear requirements, change between managers and employees, broken boundaries of social norms or groups, different backgrounds (educational, economic, cultural, political, etc.). It can lower morale, decrease productivity and creativity. So much energy can be spent on dealing with conflict that there is not enough time for other important tasks. The worst cases can disintegrate into personal stress, burnout, and workplace travesties. Once conflict has reached this stage, it will require a large amount of management time in order to deal with it. This will cause an additional decrease in productivity and efficiency rates, along with the accompanying added costs, risks,
and duration delays. If left unmanaged, this type of conflict can even lead to employee sabotage and sometimes workplace violence. This position paper provides insight into qualities and social role that project manager as mediator and leader must possess because sometimes team members can\'t resolve conflicts collectively.

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Conflict management

  1. 1. Conflict management Kresimir Popovic Zeljko Hocenski Siemens IT Solutions and Services PSE Institute of Automation and Process Computing Zupanijska 21, Osijek, Croatia Kneza Trpimira 2b, Osijek, Croatia +385 31 234 810 +385 31 224 779 zeljko.hocenski@etfos.hrABSTRACT results, or conflict can be beneficially resolved and lead to quality final products. Therefore, learning to manage conflict is integralProject managers must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms to a high-performance team. Conflict management is the principleof disruptive conflict. Such signs would include poor that all conflicts cannot be resolved, but learning how to managecommunication among team members, a lack of openness and conflicts can decrease the odds of nonproductive escalation.respect, not showing appreciation, unclear requirements, change Conflict management involves acquiring skills related to conflictbetween managers and employees, broken boundaries of social resolution, self-awareness about conflict modes, conflictnorms or groups, different backgrounds (educational, economic, communication skills, and establishing a structure forcultural, political, etc.). It can lower morale, decrease productivity management of conflict in your environment [1], [2], [3], [5], [6],and creativity. So much energy can be spent on dealing with [7], [8], [9], [10].conflict that there is not enough time for other important tasks.The worst cases can disintegrate into personal stress, burnout, and 2. PROJECT MANAGER AS LEADERworkplace travesties. Once conflict has reached this stage, it will It takes a leader to be able to handle conflict in a professionalrequire a large amount of management time in order to deal with manner. A leader is someone who people respect and followit. This will cause an additional decrease in productivity and through their own choice. Honestly – they are very rare.efficiency rates, along with the accompanying added costs, risks, Accomplished leaders have the knowledge that allows them toand duration delays. If left unmanaged, this type of conflict can attract, retain and motivate the people that are best suited toeven lead to employee sabotage and sometimes workplace providing results that contribute to achieving the goal at hand. Anviolence. This position paper provides insight into qualities and established leader is able to attract quality people to the team andsocial role that project manager as mediator and leader must offer them guidance that retains them and motivation that drivespossess because sometimes team members cant resolve conflicts them to work not only for themselves but for a group of peoplecollectively. with the same goals. A profitable leader cares about the teams success and the individual success of each team member above the success of him/herself. A proven leader has the skills,Categories and Subject Descriptors knowledge and mindset to motivate each member of his/her teamK.6.1 [Project and People Management]: Life Cycle, D.2.9. to give the maximum to the teams goals. Control and posture[Management]: Life cycle, Productivity, Programming teams speak strongly to the team, who look for examples to follow, not necessarily instructions. In other words, thriving leaders lead by example; both in what they do and the results they produce.General Terms Winning leaders offer skills and processes that are simple andManagement, Human Factors duplicatable. This is most easily done by providing the team with a simple system and a step-by-step action plan that will lead toKeywords results.Management, leader, conflict 3. QUALITIES OF SUCCESSFUL LEADER1. INTRODUCTION Listed below are qualities that every established leader mustConflict may be defined as a struggle or contest between people demonstrate in order to be validated as a successful leader andwith opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals. Conflict on earn the trust of his/her team.teams is inevitable; however, the results of conflict are not 3.1 Communication skillspredetermined. Conflict might escalate and lead to nonproductive Leader must be able to communicate clearly to others in a language that they can understand on all levels in an organization, from the most unskilled worker through to the Chief Executive. To be able to tailor the same message depending on the people in the audience, he must be confident, strong and use his visual presentation skills and speak in a confident, authoritative voice. He also must know when to stay quiet and listen to the feedback. For example, senior executives don’t want to know all the ins and outs - they want an executive summary. The best method of
  2. 2. conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face 3.11 Organizationalcommunication [4]. The project manager is the center of all project communications. It’s his or her duty to manage project status updates through e-3.2 Self improvement mails, telephone conferences and face-to-face meetings and putSuccessful leaders pursue lifelong learning. This education them together like pieces of a puzzle. Then the project managerincludes skills, knowledge and mindset. Leaders understand that must input the mix of change requests coming from stakeholdersresults are achieved by knowledgeable team individuals and are and outside business environments, then manually update thewilling to share all they know with their team mates. There are no plans email the updates to team members, report the progress tosecrets in success. the upper management and remind employees about due dates3.3 Take risks and overdue tasks. This painful process is then repeated on a dailyA confident leader is willing to fail in order to gain success and basis, slowing down project manager and his/her team. Tounderstands that perfection is never achieved. Every task has overcome this situation project manager must organize himself forroom for improvement and growth, but results can only be seen the benefit of whole team using some specialized tools which willupon implementation and then tweaked to perfection as new skills enable workspace sharing and global notification (one of reallyare developed and mastered. good tools can be found on this web page: IntegrityA proven leader has established trust and credibility in his/her 3.12 Expects of team members only what theyorganization and community. Leaders believe in themselves and can givesuccess. To expect more than team members can give is foolish and3.5 Decision maker project is put at risk trying to get it. The problem comes when theAn accomplished leader is able to make clear and decisive required performance goes beyond what a team member is likelydecision. These decisions are educated, rational and made with to give, regardless of how you ask for it. Albert Einstein onceclear and spoken confidence. Confident leaders never end their said:statements of decisions with questions (i.e.; right, okay, dont youagree?).3.6 Motivator “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and overVictorious leaders encourage their team to continue to work and again and expecting different results”.put forth efforts in achieving the goals. Keeping the big picture(goal) in front of the team and breaking the tasks down to smallergoals will motivate individuals to remain committed and focused. To expect a different result simply by asking for the same thing over and over again shifts the problem from the underperformer3.7 Focus and vision project manager.A leader must possess a very specific focus and vision, which areable to cut through the extraneous information to distil the Questions which project manager must ask himself:essence of a problem or a goal with a clear plan or road map of a. Offload a small amount of work to bring the player’show to achieve it. A vision is the big picture and should be a performance back up?constant reminder of why any effort is being put forth. b. Shift some team members to some other role in the3.8 Resourceful project to better align with their skill set?Unforeseen circumstances are typical part of project and teammembers are the vital ingredient in projects, particularly when c. Do some team members need more supervision andtrying to solve problems. Non-productive team members need to adjusting their focus more frequently?be encouraged to solve the problem by their selves while project d. Do some team members need to be removed from themanager is helping them. project and returned to their business unit?3.9 Third party opinion seeker e. What about potential consequences?If leader is not able to bring the team members to the needed levelof performance, the brief use of a third party (advisor) must be f. What about potential consequences if I do not engage inconsidered. Human resources groups and external consultancies the conflict?can be quite effective in helping people quickly see a path toperformance. The best way would be to consider advices from g. Am I in conflict?person(s) who are authorities in their field of profession. h. How might I Intervene to resolve/manage the conflict?3.10 Calm under pressure 4. DEALING WITH CONFLICTTo focus in on the problem leader must be calm in all The key issue in dealing with team conflict is for the team tocircumstances. Pressures, problems, and conflicts are a fact of life realize that the focus is not on conflict itself, but how it isand leader who can face problems head-on and deal with them managed. The idea behind managing conflict is to handle it in acalmly is way ahead of the game. constructive manner. Teams must learn to be confrontational
  3. 3. without destroying the team process. Research indicates that high 4.1.2 Mediation process #2performing teams are capable of mediating their own conflicts Conflicted team members must envision one another’s views of awhile improving productivity and strengthening relationships win-win solution for the team. Recognizing the perspective of the[12]. Teams which are not so high performing need extra push by team as whole is a critical element when arriving at a fullyleader / mediator so that business practices, operational policies, accepted solution. This becomes a meeting point between the twoor other areas that lead to the conflict can be evaluated. arguing parties. 4.1.3 Mediation process #3 If the situation escalates, a mediator is brought into the dispute to assist both sides in reaching an agreement. This mediation step is needed when an issue between individual members becomes disruptive to the team and collaboration attempts are ineffective. Each conflicted party is required to sign a documented copy of the meeting’s discussion (MoM – Minutes Of Meeting). The success of this step relies on the quality of mediator and the degree to which the team trusts this individual. 4.1.4 Mediation process #4 The fourth requirement ensures that once these first three Figure 1: Conflict path requirements are met, team members are expected to recognize and resolve conflicts collectively without leader supervision.On Figure 1 it is shown conflict path between two (or more) team 4.2 Destructive attitudes to avoid duringmembers: mediation process a. Enter the conflict zone – team members A and B start to Here we define list of attitudes which needs to avoid between argue team members during mediation process. b. One of team members becomes stubborn 4.2.1 Avoiding face-to-face communication c. The blame game – team member A blames team Sometimes team member A doesn’t want to say anything to team member B member B until he explodes, and then blurt it out in an angry, d. Actions speak louder than words - threats spoken by hurtful way. team member A towards team member B e. Attack & Counter Attack - threats spoken by team 4.2.2 Being defensive member B towards team member A Defensive team members deny any wrongdoing and work hard to avoid looking at the possibility that they could be contributing to f. The Explosion – explosion of anger; team members do a problem. Denying responsibility may seem to alleviate stress in not speak to each other the short run, but creates long-term problems when partners don’t g. Picking up the Pieces – project manager didn’t feel listened to and unresolved conflicts and continue to grow. intervene / mediate on time!To prevent this unacceptable behavior project manager / leader 4.2.3 Being always rightmust intervene before “The Blame Game” and impose mediation Sometimes a person can demand that his partner see things theprocess as mediator. same way as he does. This attitude can be taken as personal attack.4.1 Mediation processThis mediation process provides the work team with skills and 4.2.4 Interruptive communicationstructure for mediating their own disputes. Some people interrupt, roll their eyes, and rehearse what they’re going to say next instead of truly listening and attempting to4.1.1 Mediation process #1 understand their partner.Each team member must be able to learn the appropriatecommunication skills and overall mediation process. If few team 4.2.5 The Blame Gamemembers do not make the effort to learn the skills necessary for Some people handle conflict by criticizing and blaming the otheraccepted communication, then the process is incapable of working person for the situation. There should be mutual understandingeffectively and further steps must be take, e.g. worst team and coming to an agreement or resolution that respects everyone’smember needs to be removed from project and returned to his unit. These communication skills include learning toconfront others, listening to other’s concerns acknowledging 4.2.6 Personal attacksopposing perspectives, responding appropriately, and committing When one team member wants to discuss troubling issues,to a plan of agreed action. sometimes people defensively stonewall, or refuse to talk or listen to their partner.
  4. 4. 4.3 Doing things wrong In the very end the original project leader learned a lot about theHere is a real life story. Once, there were two teams. One was conflict management, the ways of resolving conflict andtasked with working with the customer to come up with a great set managing the teams in an efficient way, and I am happy to say, heof requirements for the upcoming project. Let’s call this team: R. is now a happier person, not a constantly worried guy that he usedThe other team was the team responsible for the development of to be.features to satisfy those requirements. Let’s call this team: D.Team R did a poor job at the beginning; because they were letting 5. CONCLUSION The role of conflict in teams is determined by the manner inthe customer call all the shots, make all the technical decisions – which it is managed. Conflict pervades the core of teamand the customer did not really have the proper skills. This led to processes, and, if unaddressed it will cause project failure. Thethe constant changes of requirements during the project. leader must use advantages of the conflict mediation process toTeam D tried working with such requirements, but were improve business and operational practices of the team wheneverconstantly interrupted with the team R’s change requests. Team D possible. Conflict is a fact of life and is a part of any business. Itblamed team R for the lousy job they did and so eventually after can erode your business or help improve it. Your job as a managerattempts to have team R realize that they were not doing a great is to turn it into a learning experience for the individuals injob with the customer and team R not getting the signals, team D conflict, the management team, and the company as a whole.decided (unconsciously) to start playing with the project. Handle conflict expediently and fairly without allowing it toHow? Well they stopped correcting the requirements and never derail your companys objectives and mission.considered the larger picture. They implemented the requirementsto the letter, but of course this led to the finished product to be of 6. REFERENCESvery poor quality. [1] Algert, N.E. (1996) “Conflict in the workplace”The blame game started who was wrong. Team R claimed that in Proceedings: Women in Engineering Advocatesteam D did a poor job, while team D claimed the requirements Network, Denver, CO., 123–127.were wrong, but they followed them and did the job as required.The customer was unhappy, both teams were unhappy and the [2] Algert, N.E., and Watson, K. (2002). Conflictmanager was unhappy. Eventually the customer demanded fixes. management: introductions for individuals and organizationsThe project broke through the deadlines, penalties were looming,so the higher-up’s decided to help the project leader. [3] Blake, R.R., and Mouton, J.S. (1964). The managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.4.4 Doing things rightAn experienced manager was brought in with the task of finishing [4] Gelperin D. (2008). Exploring Agile, APSO ’08the project one way or the other. [5] Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, F.P. (2000) JoiningFirst thing he did was to organize a meeting between the leaders together: group theory and group skills (7th ed.),of teams R and D and the customer. The truth was revealed there Boston, Allyn and Bacon.– the customer was lightly criticized for striving to makedecisions in an area where he did not have the expertise, the team [6] Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., Holubec, E.J.R was to take the blame for poorly agreeing to the requirements (1986). Circles of learning: cooperation in theand team D was criticized for not escalating the problem earlier. classroom (rev. ed.), Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.Luckily this was all done in such a manner that the customerdecided he was willing to move the deadline, if the end result was [7] Katzenbach, J.R., and Smith, D.K. (1992). Wisdom ofto be better than it was now. So a person from team D and a teams, Harvard Business School Press.person from team R were tasked to work with the customer for aweek and really talk about all the aspects of the project and over [8] Lambert, J., and Myers, S. (1999) 50 Activities forthe following weekend write a list of all the requirements the conflict resolution. Amherst, MA: HR Developmentproject must have at its conclusion and this would need to be Press.arranged so that both the customer, the team R and team D wereexcited that they can do the task. [9] McDaniel, G., Littlejohn, S., & Domenici, K. (1998). A team conflict mediation process that really works!Team R had the expertise to negotiate the deal and draft papersand documents. Team D had the expertise to provide guidance on [10] Raudsepp, E. (2002) “Hone Listening Skills To Boosthow best to do the project to fulfill the feature set required. The Your Career”customer was pleased to see how he was getting a much betterdeal with continuing the project than abandoning it now, and in [11] Smith, K.A. (2000). Project management and teamwork.the end the project was completed, the customer continued to New York: McGraw-Hill BEST with the company and it was decided that in all futureprojects the teams R and D would work on, one person from each [12] Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Consultingteam would switch each month and work for the other team. Psychologists Press, Palo Alto