We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to work with someone that can be challenging. But the question is, when you’re in charge, how do you pre-empt conflicts within the team? And perhaps even more importantly, how do you turn negative energy into positive energy?
This often depends on the amount of control you have over the situation. If you’re a brand new business, or you’re hiring a new team, you have a potentially large aperture for success; before you hire you can consider whose personalities will match. You can literally build a team with the sort of personality traits that will complement each other. The risk you run with this sort of team building is that you rely on people telling you the truth.
Through hiring the correct style of worker, you can often avoid navigating the minefield that is office politics; picking members of a team who achieve their goals through similar processes will result in high levels of cohesion early on. The team should always relate to the work ethic of the company too.
However, the most frequent position you will be in is one where you have to manage a team that you didn’t put together. In either scenario, there are several processes that, if repeated consistently, should lead you to success. In other words you can’t just perform one action and assume that all members of the team are effective partners. This is an ongoing addition to all the other activities that are on your to-do list. Day in, day out, you have to maintain the chemistry of the team; it could be argued that this is one of the most important elements of your job, because if the team doesn’t work, then the project won’t work.
Hold regular meetings. At the very centre of all conflict resolution is communication. Meetings open the floor to any issues or gripes within the group. Praise honesty. Honesty is essential to getting your team to lay their worries on the table. How do you do this? Make them feel comfortable. Whether you like it or not, humour is a great vessel for the truth, even better than a project manager with a sense of humour, is a project manager that doesn’t mind joking at their own expense. When within reason, humour can shed light on our faults; this opens them to conversation – what have we learnt? How can we improve? What do we need to do next? How can we help each other achieve that goal?
Of all the coveted soft skills employers seek out in potential employees, the one that seems to go under the radar every time is the ability to accept and learn from criticism (possibly because it can seemingly work at odds with other desirable qualities such as confidence). It’s important that the entire team wears this particular badge; criticism needn’t be negative, if anything it is the catalyst for creating positive change. Doing some soft skills training with team members from time to time might enable or bolster these skill sets within staff.
Of course it isn’t just other team members that someone might have problems with. It might be with you. Here’s a question; how do you ensure that you are a good, fair project manager that understands the needs of the team members in order for them to work effectively? It really is quite simple. Talk to them. You can’t possibly know what is going through the mind of every staff member, no matter how small the team is – you’re going to need to communicate. And be direct about it; have they got any workload issues? Do they feel they are being treated fairly? Each member of the team is different, and you’ll have to negotiate on certain terms, but for the sake of good relations, it is worth the time and effort. The cherry on the cake is learning about their personality. More in depth questions about their lives will not only give you more insight about the kind of person they are, but it will also make them feel like you are interested; as though they are more than a number.
Whilst it might seem easy enough to communicate effectively with your staff, it isn’t always so simple. And ensuring that other staff members communicate with each other appropriately is even harder.
Ultimately, one of the keys to keeping a team running smoothly is the combination of honest, direct communication and the creation of a positive and safe working environment that allows individuals the freedom to express opinions professionally and appropriately within the project team or to the respective project manager.