Conflict and Team Growth

Sources of Conflict

There are challenges aplenty awaiting project managers when it comes to gathering a collection of individuals assigned to eventually become a team and produce the organization’s objective as defined by the project.  The business mantra of doing more with less – often less time and certainly less resources (and available talent) do not help this situation. The latter, the availability and focus of talent are a significant reason for the success of agile methodologies – in my humble opinion. I have seen the difference in project execution when you have a dedicated set of talent and resources against organizations objectives.  To bring the team to this level of efficacy we will need to shepherd them toward a group that acts more like a team rather than a collection of individuals. In this regard a project manager will act like a coach.  However, there will be no guarantee of success regarding the conversion of individuals to a team.  The transition from individuals to self-directed (or with project management direction) work team to obtain the best from the talent is our ultimate objective. In that way we have “buy-in” to the project and deliveries from the team.

Available Talent and Growth

Another area of concern, based upon experience, is the availability of talent and skills.  My experience suggests we tend to employ the same set of people, our top talent as it were, in our most complicated projects.  From a risk point of view, our project looks to reduce the risks due to this uncertainty. However this comes at a cost in the development of our entire team to the higher level of performance.  Consider the test group that keeps the same main player engaged but does not provide the same opportunity for growth (and yes failure is a form of growth).  We do not improve our entire test department capability but when the key player leaves then we are scrambling to develop other talent to meet our project demands.


Whether the groups are co-located or disperse, ultimately your end desire is to have them perform as a team.  There is considerable more difficulty (based upon experience) to making that happen in a team that is disperse – but it is no impossible. We can consider co-location temporarily. We can set up discussions at regular intervals and in such a way that all are required to contribute.  This can be facilitated via our communications plans. Keeping meetings down to a minimum but making those you do have produce results is important. Online collaboration is much better than it has been in the past.  There are numerous tools.   For example, I have co-authored more than 7 books and scores of magazine articles and never have I been in the same state as the co-author.  Distance is not that big of a risk – it is more the mindset that is important.

Some key characteristics of a team are[1]:

  1. Strong team identity: having a team name and the rest of the organization knows of the team
  2. Uniqueness: feeling like “we are extraordinary”
  3. Commitment: feeling ownership in the project – that is buy in
  4. Competency: acknowledging team competencies and
  5. Fun: creating a fun-loving environment

Ultimately it is the project manager that must keep the team from suffering the impact of destructive conflict. Conflict itself is not a bad thing.  Conflict can move us from no solution to an improved state – a better solution – a better product and better performance.  Conflict can help us avoid some risks also. However, that conflict must be harnessed. Often the conflict is left to fester, constructive use eludes us and we erode our team’s ability to perform and in fact any chance our collection of individuals will become a team.


[1] Kim H Pries and Jon M Quigley, (2009). Project Management of Complex and Embedded Systems. 1st ed. New York: CRC Press. Page 29

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