Help! How Do I Lead In a Land of Conflict?

Office Conflict

In today’s workforce, members of an organization and team come in different flavors.

Today’s workforce is not only diverse ethnically, but also in so many other ways as well.

Differing Employees

Employees come from different educational levels with varying specialty areas and work experience.

Employees can have very diverse social, political, and religious views.

Some employees are married with families and others are single with no family obligations. Also, co-workers from different departments view the work or project from varied perspectives, i.e. IT versus Operations.

At times, with such a huge melting pot of backgrounds and experiences come differences of opinion when it comes to getting the job done. Or the conflict may not even be related to the work, but rather a clash of personalities. Let’s face the fact that eventually people are bound to disagree.

With that, there could be an occasion (hopefully not more than one during our careers), when leaders are presented with an awkward and confrontational situation between employees.

It can be very unpleasant for you as a leader, the affected employees and even your entire team, depending on the circumstances and how effectively you deal with the situation.

What Has Happened to My Team?

Interpersonal conflicts can be extremely damaging to a team and if the organization is small enough to its overall dynamics and performance as well. If a situation between individual employees remains untreated and burns out of control, the outcome could be a toxic work environment.

As a leader, here are some tips which may help alleviate or eliminate the issue:

  1. Observe and assess the situation
  2. Have a one on one discussion with each of the involved employees
  3. Have a kumbaya session with both employees (yes, this means everyone in the same room)
  4. Enlist the assistance of your HR department to facilitate the session if necessary
  5. Motivate and engage the entire team to ensure there is no disruption to the work or decrease in morale
  6. If there is no improvement with the affected employees, consult with your HR department for the next course of action.

Problems in Project Land?

Conflicts between departments who have to work together on a project can be awkward as well. However, most organizations engage the services of a project manager.

This role serves multiple purposes.

The person charged as project manager is responsible for ensuring that all stakeholders’ needs are met and the project is completed on time and within budget.

However, a project manager also has to sometimes serve as a facilitator between departments and may have to be a mediator to ensure that a project remains on track and every team and its members are clear about their deliverables.

Project teams typically consist of multiple departments. Every functional area has different viewpoints, based on their past experiences and respective fields.

When it comes down to working on a project and solutioning, everyone wants to be right and be the hero.

However, as any project manager is well aware, there typically is only one solution. And that solution usually has to meet a set of established business requirements, stakeholders’ needs and budget.

Dealing With Turmoil

When dealing with inter-departmental turmoil on a project team, here are a few helpful hints:

  1. Listen to all proposed solutions and create a visual for the team, whether it is drawing on a whiteboard or perhaps a Visio diagram. However, the key is to listen. The most demeaning experience for a department and its project members is to feel as though their ideas are not being heard and/or acknowledged by the project team/manager.
  2. If a particular topic is becoming contentious between departments, place the topic in the parking lot and discuss it at a later session or meet with those parties for a separate discussion. The venue you choose to resolve this will also depend on the impact of the topic to the overall project and team.
  3. When disagreements between departments begin to interfere with the overall project schedule/status, discuss with your line management and if necessary, escalate it to the next level.

And lastly, but most importantly, whether you lead a team, unit or project, always follow the mantra to lead and promote R-E-S-P-E-C-T among your colleagues.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

As a manager of people or a business unit, how many times have you had to help resolve a conflict? What steps did you take? What was the final outcome?

As a project manager, were you ever faced with a situation where you just couldn’t get two departments to come to a consensus? If so, how did you handle it?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Marie Maher, MBA

Marie Maher is Director of Operations Analysis at The College Board
She manages projects and new operational initiatives for testing programs
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: Marm69

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