Most project teams endure conflict without a hitch. It’s a normal part of the process and an activity that helps the team make the best decisions and craft the most efficient solutions to problems. But if stakeholders or others are particularly onerous—or if one party has enough influence to quell dissenters and get their way no matter what—it can be difficult for even a skilled and experienced internal facilitator to keep a handle on conflict.
Because highly-placed stakeholders may exert tremendous pressure if discussions aren’t progressing the way they’d like, the use of an outside facilitator can offer a much-needed dose of neutrality and composure. An external expert will also be able to provide the team with a strong communication and efficiency presence to keep the project moving forward even when disagreements arise.
Leveling the playing field
Projects often involve stakeholders who wield significant influence within the organization. They could be a key supporter or sponsor. They might have control over funding approvals or the allocation of personnel or other critical resources. They may even be an owner or member of the executive team. The greater the visibility a project has, the more powerful its stakeholders are likely to be. This can cause disruptions to many processes within the project team, from defining scope to addressing resource availability to developing a PR strategy.
When conflict involves an individual in a position of authority, it can lead to disparities in how each team member’s voice is weighted. Insight from those with the most expertise might be ignored or shouted down. Less influential stakeholder groups may never get the opportunity to speak up. An external facilitator will have the tools and strategies necessary to balance the power within the team in a way that ensures the right opinions, questions, and concerns are heard and considered.
Avoiding personal attacks
Project teams are comprised of passionate people. Their intensity can sometimes spill over into all-out emotion, setting the stage for discussions that expand outside the topic at hand and instead begin placing blame for past issues or even calling into question the actions of others in the group. A skilled outside facilitator knows how to spot this situation early and head off unproductive areas of conversation. Their neutral position means there’s no risk they could also become mired in someone’s personal vendetta.
Instead, an outside consultant will be able to help the team dig into the real triggers behind the conflict and identify how the team can resolve issues and where opportunities exist to improve performance. An external expert can also be instrumental in showing the project office how to elevate the process of finding and fixing problems above simply pointing fingers and getting caught up in unhelpful blame.
Maintain focus on what the team is trying to accomplish during each meeting
When conflict isn’t well managed, it can quickly derail discussions and send meetings into an unproductive tail spin. It’s difficult to get anything done when team members spend too much time on pointless arguing and not enough time on problem solving. It’s a scenario that often leads to follow-up meetings in an effort to both reconcile the conflict and move on to the other items the team needs to discuss. Everyone’s calendars soon fill up with discussions that veer off course and rehash old territory rather than with activities that propel the project forward.
An outside expert will bring their skills to bear and work with the team to determine where the discussion needs to go. They can then shift everyone’s focus back to productively addressing important issues and concerns.