We hope and pray that things will always go smoothly on our creative projects. Big egos often prevail, especially on creative projects because of their nature. The project manager overseeing the team is often less of a resource manager and more of a “facilitator of forward progress”. In the matrix organization or professional services type environment where resources are “borrowed” for each project, the hope is that the real “resource management” is left to the team member’s direct report managers. That’s where the performance reviews happen, the training happens, the career advancement happens and, hopefully, the conflict resolution happens.

So when conflict rears its ugly head, arguments or backstabbing begin to occur, and behaviors change such that the success of the project might be affected. The project manager or creative director will likely find himself in a situation where action must be taken, no matter how hard he tries to avoid it. How do you go about it? What actions can you take? Should you take? Are you willing to take? Let’s consider a few steps in the possible scenario of hopefully resolving team conflicts on a project you are leading.

Go to the apparent problem source. Always, always, always, give your team members the respect of reaching out to them first. It’s how you would want to be treated and it’s how you should treat them. Talk to the individuals involved in the conflict, get the background information on the incident and see if there is possibly just a misunderstanding which quick, easy action will resolve. Be careful though, you may be uncovering a much bigger issue that you will be dealing with now. But get to the root cause or it will never end, and your project’s outcome will always be in jeopardy.

Approach to the supervisor. If you aren’t the creative director over the entire group and therefore the supervisor, then go to the individuals’ supervisor(s) and discuss the issues with them. If discipline is in order, it should come from the resource’s direct supervisor– not you – unless that is you. Which depends, of course, upon the structure of your organization. Perhaps some simple corrective action can take place, but it may take more…

Take it to the group. If everyone has been affected or involved, take it to the entire project team. This will be a necessary step toward healing and moving forward. It is far better to get the situation taken care of and get the team back on track and moving forward than it is to replace anyone on the project. The on boarding, training and learning curve process can be both time consuming and expensive to the project. And replacing resources will likely always cause client concerns.

Move forward on a trial basis. Obviously, you have to try out the corrective action that you put in place. You have to give it a chance to play out, and hopefully correct the project-damaging behaviors. But you can’t afford to give it very long. It needs to work well and work quickly. Otherwise, further action must be taken such as removing one or more resources from the project or even from the organization. It’ll cost you too much and you’re better off letting someone go than spending time trying to rectify the un-rectifiable.

Summary / call for input

Conflict is not a good word. People often say that some conflict is healthy. That may be true about helping a normal relationship remain strong. But for a project, it can derail it fast. Your team needs to be a cohesive unit. Unlike a marriage of 40 years where occassional conflict may be beneficial, they are working on a project that may be one month or one year long and will always have a tight schedule and a tight budget. The faster the proactive project manager can jump on that conflict and resolve it for the good of the team, client and project, the better it is for everyone.

Readers – what are your thoughts in resolving conflict? What would you add or change to these actions? Do you have success (or failure) stories to share?