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Understanding Why Conflict Happens – A Mini Case Study

ConflictI have been coaching a client around conflict they are having within their project team. In talking with my client, she shared the following information:

“Conflict is happening more and more on the project team. It seems that even the smallest issue becomes a big issue in just a matter of minutes! We are getting less and less accomplished because none of these conflicts ever seems to be resolved.”

We decided that I would meet with the team to discuss the conflicts they were having. During the meeting, I learned that each team member felt that their voice was not being heard and that they really were not understanding the conflicts or why those conflicts were even occurring. It was apparent that the team members were not communicating effectively and, even more importantly, listening to each other.

We scheduled a team building activity for the following week. The goal was to enable the team to spend some time away from the actual work of the project and focus on learning more about each other. As part of the session, I provided the team with a mini case study scenario with a conflict situation very similar to one they had experienced fairly recently. We did some role playing with defined roles set that would enable the team to understand how the conflict occurred and why it was not being resolved.

After the scenario was played out, we asked team members to respond to the following questions:

  • What information was each role player missing about the others?
  • What were the reactions and perspectives of each of the role players?
  • Did role players share information with each other and really listen to others?
  • What could have been done differently by each of the role players to better resolve the conflict?

We then asked the team to consider the following when they are involved in conflicts with their fellow team members?

  • What experiences, realities, perceptions and backgrounds do they bring to the situation?
  • Do they really listen to understand their team members’ points of view?
  • Can they see the conflict through the eyes of their team members?

We then took a current conflict and asked the team to discuss the conflict among themselves and develop a solution to it keep in mind that they need to:

  • Provide time for each team member to express his or her personal views without interruption.
  • Ask questions to ensure understanding and to clarify information being presented.
  • Listen carefully!
  • Using consensus, develop a solution to the conflict.

At the end of the day-long session, the team had a better understanding of why conflicts were arising on the team and how they could resolve (and maybe even avoid some) conflicts in the future. By taking the time to enable the team to spend a day together without having to worry about project tasks to be completed, we were able to enable for relationship building to occur and trust to be built. When teams have strong working relationships and trust each other, conflicts, when they do occur, are more easily managed and resolved.