Project Management Teamwork : When Good Confrontation Goes Bad

Many people think confrontation is something to be rooted out and stopped. On the contrary, the right kinds of confrontation can actually make your project management team more productive and your project more successful. Before you decide to invite your coworkers over for a grudge match, be sure you’re supporting the good sort of confrontation, and preventing the bad kind from hampering your team’s efforts.

Good confrontation is ultimately productive, and will help team members move the project toward its objectives. Keep an open mind, and make an earnest effort to understand the opposing opinion(s). You’re likely to build team morale while achieving better-than-planned results.

Progress – your team may take time during the confrontation to explore options, research alternatives, and understand what’s at stake, but productive confrontation ultimately leads to progress. Once a disagreement has been sorted out, team members should have a positive result—a more feasible set of resources, more reasonable deliverables, better contracts with vendors, etc.—to support their efforts.

Re-examine objectives – disagreements have the potential to force your project management team or the project’s stakeholders to re-examine the project’s objectives in a new (and more fundamentally sound) light. This doesn’t mean the objectives were flawed originally. Any number of factors—resources, needs, market conditions, corporate strategy—might have changed along the way.

Increased efficiency – confrontations focused on methodology or processes have the potential to bring people to a new plane of efficiency, as long as everyone involved is truly committed to the project’s success, and not their own egos.

Remember that when you or your team is involved in a confrontation, attitude is imperative. If a team member gets positive results only after alienating the rest of the team and infuriating vendors, you may be headed for trouble in the long-term. Adhere tightly to the codes of professionalism and common courtesy at all times.

Bad confrontation has the potential to spread stress and animosity throughout your team. Keep an eye out for these telltale signs of unproductive (and often highly damaging) confrontation among your team members, stakeholders, end users, and vendors.

Distraction – if a disagreement is becoming a focal point beyond what you feel is reasonable, it’s time to step in. The success of your project and the achievement of its objectives are far more important than how a disagreement plays out. Keep the confrontation among the responsible parties, and discourage others from taking sides or getting into the discussion unnecessarily.

Lack of progress – good confrontation will result in some sort of progress, either in the form of additional buy-in, consolidation of resources, or a positive change in direction. If your team seems to be stalled, take another look at the disagreement and see if there’s a way to defuse it or reach a more agreeable compromise.

Breakdown in morale – stress among the team can quickly escalate to critical levels, requiring significant effort to bring everyone back to the table and re-focus on achieving objectives. A disagreement that fractures a team is unlikely to bear any worthwhile fruit in the end, and a group meeting to discuss the situation and get everyone back on track is essential.

Your ability to quickly spot and eliminate unproductive confrontations will play a significant role in the success of your team and your project. Rebuilding morale, soothing hurt feelings, dealing with potential personnel issues that may arise as a result, and restoring relationships that could have suffered real damage are all activities that take time, effort, and focus. The more adept you are at staving off problems early, the more you’ll be able to concentrate on productive tasks.

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