What to do when your project team just can’t get along

Project work requires individuals with differing opinions, work habits, and communication styles to work closely and collaboratively on common end goals. Organization and focus are critical. But what happens when your project team just can’t get along? What can be done to reach resolutions and move forward?

  • DO: Set code of conduct rules – As a project leader, part of your responsibility to stakeholders is to set the project culture, expectations and conduct rules at project initiation. This can go a long way to setting the tone for how team members behave, interact and communicate. It should also identify how individual conflict will be resolved, as well as ensure all members respect not only the project itself but all individuals involved.
  • DO NOT: Procrastinate – Get really serious, really fast about troubleshooting team conflicts before things get out of control and sideline tasks, deliverables or the project altogether. These issues will not go away on their own; they will simply escalate and eventually become toxic to the remaining team members.
  • DO: Quickly and carefully isolate problems – Immediately meet with the individual(s) involved in the conflict and get right to the heart of the issues. Avoid getting caught in other noise and distraction surrounding the key issues. Note: To optimize human resources, there is no need to involve other team members, as their time is better spent focusing on moving the project work along.
  • DO: Be clear and direct – Avoid spending time skirting around the issues. Directly deal with the problems at hand. It is important as a leader you do not appear timid, indecisive or indirect when dealing with conflict. Time is also of the essence; ensure problems are expeditiously and fully resolved before moving on. Residual issues can quickly snowball and become larger problems once again if not properly addressed.
  • DO: Follow-up to ensure issues were actually resolved – It is better not to assume issues have been resolved just because team members are not outwardly displaying negative signs. Often times anger, disappointment and a lack of buy-in can remain underground, quietly sabotaging project efforts. After things appear settled, in an effort to ensure issues have in fact been resolved, meet with the individuals separately to discuss efforts and progress.
  • DO NOT: Avoid making tough decisions where and when necessary – This is that tough and unenviable part of being a leader, but necessary from time to time. There will be occasions where one or more individuals become a liability to a project’s success no matter what efforts have been made to resolve issues. This is when it may be in the best interest of the project and the company to remove these individuals from the project team and allow best efforts to prevail. This step should be carefully contemplated and planned.
  • DO: Document the issues and proposed resolutions – Take the time to document any team issues as well as proposed solutions. This will provide a mechanism to track events, solutions, progress and also identify ways to improve team dynamics in the future. Conflict will continually surface throughout many projects, and because team collaboration accounts for such a high percentage of success or failure, this is where lessons learned are of high value.
  • DO: Learn how to avoid the same issue next time – Consider compiling an ongoing list of team-based issues including resolution strategies that work and do not work. Talk with other internal or external HR or project management experts to gain insights into additional ways to resolve team conflict.

Accept the fact that team dynamics will change with each new project and/or each team member, but know that it is your responsibility as a project leader to identify ways to foster a cohesive team environment and to act on it to ensure the optimal project results.

Post by Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group and a Co-founder and Director, Information Systems & Technology Advisory at Conture Business Advisors, PS. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications and a contributor for the Price of Business Talk Radio 1110 KTEK (Home of Bloomberg Radio), Houston, TX. She has 20+ years in business, (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To find out more about Moira, go to www.leadhershipgroup.biz and www.contureadvisors.com.