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Case Study: Resolving Serious Conflict between Team Members

Background: The members of your project team are in serious conflict. They have split into two camps. The last team meeting was a disaster with four members of the team sitting on one side of the table and the other four on the other side. You could feel the tension in the air. You ended the meeting after only 30 minutes as it was apparent nothing was getting resolved at that time. You scheduled another meeting for the following Wednesday as you needed time to prepare your strategy.

What’s Going On: You scheduled a meeting with each member of the team individually to understand what was going on from their perspective. During the individual meetings with the team members, you learned the following:

  • Not all team members felt that they were heard in meetings and true consensus had not been reached in the past. Rather, team members felt that they were “pushed” into coming to agreement on solutions to past problems that arose on the project.
  • During a few brainstorming sessions, team members felt that ideas were discarded in favor of ideas that were easy to do and no real brainstorming took place.
  • Team members felt that some other members of the team were getting away with not completing tasks on time or of poor quality and that was impacting the workload of everyone else.

Early on in the project the team never worked through how conflict would be managed when it did arise on the project. You had collaborated with past teams about how conflicts would be managed but, given the quick start to this project, you didn’t do so this time. You had a feeling this might be a problem but had hoped for the best. There were also correct that you were probably not the best person to help get through this conflict as it involved you also.

Your Strategy: You got permission from the sponsor to bring in a facilitator to help the team (and yourself) work through the conflict and also determine how conflicts would be handled throughout the project. In addition, once that was accomplished, you were going to have a team meeting that was focused purely on team building activities and collaborating how the team would continue to work together to accomplish the project. This would include determining:

  • Problem solving processes
  • Decision-making processes
  • Risk management processes
  • How information will be shared between team members

You also wanted to spend time reviewing roles and responsibilities on the team to ensure you had the right people in the right roles and everyone felt comfortable with what had to be done on the project.

The day would end with dinner at a nearby restaurant.

You prepared an outline of the full-day team meeting and shared with the team. You received good feedback about the outline.

The All Day Team Event: The day of the all-day team meeting arrived. The project sponsor kicked off the event with a brief overview of the project the group had undertaken, highlighting its importance to the organization and alignment to long-term strategy. You then reviewed the agenda and introduced the facilitator. The day went well overall with minimal conflicts that arose. Those that did were managed by the facilitator. By having a facilitator, you were able to participate in the day’s events and provide your own thoughts and ideas. Plus, you were able to spend time building stronger relationships with the team which you knew would be key to a successful project moving forward.

The Next Month on the Project: Let’s skip ahead to a month after the all-day team event. While there were a few conflicts, they were resolved quickly. Additionally, when problems arose, the team came together and collaborated to find a solution. During a quick check-in after the first conflict during this time and after the first problem solving session, team members noted they felt much better about the process and felt that the team was working together much more effectively.

Six Months Later:  Six months later things are going well. The team is working together quite well and is highly performing. Problems are solved quickly and decisions are made collaboratively.