Conflict resolution is a skill that transcends roles. So regardless of the type of team I am managing, my response would be the same.
Tip #1: Set the rules and boundaries. As a leader, you define the standards for conduct and enforce them. Part of your resource plan should also include time for team building.
First, it is important to establish the team as a safe space where open and transparent communication can occur. Many technical decisions can be handled in a meeting where everyone has an opportunity to speak and a team consensus is eventually reached. I also encourage data-driven decision making.
Let me give you an example of the importance of facts and data. One time a project I was managing made a technical decision about the programming language we were going to use for coding. I knew up front there might be some controversy regarding the performance programs written this way. So very early in planning, I collected some performance statistics to compare an existing, similar program written in the preferred language to some similar algorithms coded in our chosen language. Our choice won hands down.
When the inevitable dispute arose, a meeting was called for a discussion. In the meeting, I presented my information – how we collected the data and what the data showed.
Tip #2: Conflict is natural but does not age well. When you see conflict, be sure to address it in a timely manner.
In some rare instances, I have had two team members approach me (their manager) with a dispute they are having. My initial response is always the same - you are the two best people to solve this. Set up a time to discuss this and let me know what you decide. 99% of the time, they do not return.
Tip #3: Patience and active listening skills are critical. Be sure to discuss the issues and not people. Many conflicts reach a resolution simply by allowing those in conflict a safe space to talk about them. Encourage collaboration to reach solutions.
For the remaining 1%, I typically start with a 1:1 meeting with each to learn more about the issue and their positions. Then I have a meeting with the three of us, again, letting them do most of the talking. Knowing their positions, I am better able to facilitate the meeting and help them achieve a resolution. This is a form of informal mediation.
Tip #4: It is OK to agree to disagree. Try to find as much common ground as possible, but the ultimate resolution may have to be a compromise. Regardless of the situation, always document the outcome. A plan may be necessary to re-visit the topic after more data has been collected or time has passed.
In some even more rare instances where an agreement is not reached, I may suggest a tentative resolution and ask if they are able to support it. The resolution is one that must be supported by facts and data.
Tip #5: Always look forward. Keep those in conflict focused on the resolution or plans to reach resolution and do not dwell on history.
In some rare instances, conflicts around legal matters may require further work. Be sure to consult with your Human Resources or Legal professionals and bring them into the resolution as needed.
There are two good videos of about 90 minutes each that cover both individual and team conflict resolution here. If you are a PMI certificate holder, watching both is 3 technical PDUs (self-reported).
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