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Conflict – What Conflict ? How to Identify Internal Team Conflict

Conflict can arise within all teams, and Project Teams are no different.  How this conflict manifests itself depends upon the team, the individuals themselves and the environment.  If conflict goes unresolved, it can pose a significant risk to the success  of the project.

The focus of this Blog post is on how to identify conflict within the Project Team.

My ethos is to deal with conflict early and quickly, before the disruption to the Project Team becomes significant.  To be an effective Project Team Leader, it’s important to be vigilant in identifying conflict, and achieving resolution.

Project Managers need to be keyed into the language and behaviours of the Project Team members. Behaviours to watch out for include:

Open hostility between team members

This can be an easy source of conflict to identify. When seemingly neutral topics are discussed and strong emotional responses from one or more individuals are seen, you can surmise that conflict is present.

This behaviour can be seen in a number of formats – team meetings, one-on-one encounters in the workplace and e-mail/instant messaging exchanges. Shouting exchanges or heated discussions between individuals are clear indicators that things are not ok within the team and something needs to be done.

Lack of engagement

While a lack of engagement may not always signify that conflict exists, for individuals that are normally frequent contributors, any change in behaviour should be investigated to establish the cause.

Examples of this are:

  • Ongoing non-participation in team meetings or discussions
  • Ambivalence about the project
  •  Behind the scenes manoeuvring  to push own agenda
  • Inability to commit to tasks/timelines assigned

Increased levels of complaining

As a Project Manager, it is common for members of the team to vent their frustrations to you. It is healthy to do this and can be very cleansing. The behaviour to watch out for is when the level of complaining either at an individual level or across the group increases noticeably over a short time frame.

While this trend may be just a sign of  frustration, it can also indicate that conflict between members of the team is present. Continued complaining directed at individuals within the team is a clear warning sign that conflict is present.

Circular discussions

While engaging in circular discussion is typically not a sign of conflict, ongoing unresolved discussions about the same issue/topic can be. Some people thrive on circular pointless discussions about issues that are important to them. In some circumstances this behaviour is used to divert attention away from the real issue(s).

As a leader it is important to be attentive to any increased frequency in this type of behaviour amongst the team.

While not all conflict is bad, left unresolved it has the potential to destabilise the team and jeopardise the success of the project. Once you have identified that there is an issue, the next step is to do something about it.

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