Styles

People approach conflict in different ways and these can be identified and measured. As an example, conflict styles may be articulated as [6.5]:

• Compromising (sharing)

• Avoiding (withdrawal)

• Accommodating (smoothing)

• Collaborating (problem solving)

In addition, there exists a measurement instrument known as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument [6.6] whereby one can measure an individual's tendency toward adopting one or another mode of conflict management. The reader with a interest in knowing more about his or her own tendency is urged to contact Thomas and Kilmann and take their conflict mode measurement ''test.''

Competing (forcing) is an approach whereby power is used to resolve a conflict. This may be done in a variety of ways. The most obvious is to utilize the dominant position as a supervisor in order to force resolution. In effect, ''We will do it this way because I am the boss.'' This may temporarily resolve the conflict, but it may not persuade or convince anyone to change positions. The power may be applied directly or even subtly, but competing or forcing is not a long-term and reliable way to resolve conflicts. In certain situations, it may exacerbate the conflict and cause people to respond in kind when they have greater power leverage.

The compromising or sharing style involves trying to find a position that is acceptable to all parties. It is a classical ''negotiation'' stance and can often lead to an effective resolution. Unfortunately, the results may be acceptable in terms of human relations but may be wrong for the project. As an example, if a conflict occurs with respect to estimation of the time it might take to perform a given set of activities, a compromise solution might be to accept the mean value between the estimated values. This argues for ''beauty'' instead of ''truth,'' and may hurt the project by failing to get to underlying facts that might be important. Some researchers in the area of conflict resolution have also called this approach the ''lose-lose'' solution because the combatants each lose a little in order to come to a resolution. This approach might work well in international negotiations, but has its shortcomings in a project context.

The avoiding or withdrawal approach simply refuses to come to terms with the conflict and face it squarely. Under these conditions, of course, the conflict remains and festers like a bad sore. No resolution occurs, and a poor model of behavior is established. The conflict may go underground for a while, but because its essence is not dealt with, it does not really go away. Many novice managers adopt this mode of behavior because they are unsure as to their position, power, and skill in contentious situations. Some do not see alternative modes of behavior that lie between the extremes of ''fight'' or ''fly'' and therefore prefer to fly. It is not a recommended way of resolving conflicts because it really ''pretends'' that the conflict does not exist or, if it does, is not in need of action.

The accommodating or smoothing solution acknowledges the conflict but plays down its severity or possible impact. This approach is sometimes referred to as suppression because its ultimate purpose is to dampen the conflict and reduce its potential effects. It can be a good approach when the conflict cannot be dealt with at the moment it occurs. For example, if two members of the team flare up in conflict at a meeting, it may be entirely reasonable to suppress such a conflict, thus preventing progress on the meeting's agenda. In short, accommodating may be a good temporary solution but it does not really resolve the conflict. It is recommended only when the situation at hand does not provide sufficient time to tackle the conflict in a more fundamental manner.

A collaborating or problem-solving style recognizes that the combatants have a right to state their different views and that all views are accepted as valid. In this mode, there is encouragement to bring all views and perspectives to the forefront so that they can be explored in detail. Reasons ''why'' are elicited so that there is a clarification as to the issues and positions. If handled correctly, this will usually lead to a better understanding between combatants and a willingness to go beyond the surface conflict to its deeper roots and rationale. Listening is encouraged so that the participants can learn how to accept other positions with grace and equanimity. The objective of this approach is not only to collaborate, but also to truly solve the immediate problem. It may indeed have the ultimate effect of teaching people how to resolve conflicts in a productive manner. This, of course, is the recommended conflict resolution mode and, when skillfully applied, can support the long-term effectiveness of the project team.

We do not expect, in this short discussion, to delve deeply into a subject as complex as the human behavior aspects of conflict and its resolution. The basic point is that all of us have natural tendencies to handle conflict in different ways. If you can identify your own tendencies in relation to the preceding alternative modes, you may have a new way of looking at and approaching the difficult problem of handling conflict. Many people are good in conflict situations as long as they are not one of the combatants. In general, it is a good idea to try to see alternatives when you are a part of the conflict and can take a step back in an attempt to move into a less personal problemsolving mode. Backing down from a previously held position is not the end of the world. Indeed, it may actually represent the dawning of a new acceptance of the wisdom you have gained. Giving up old styles of combatting and competing may help you avoid ulcers and burnout.

6.6 MEETINGS

In Exhibit 6.2, meetings were suggested as one of the primary mechanisms for team building. Meetings, of course, create the opportunity for the team to ''do its thing'' in terms of real information exchange and problem solving. They are the operating crucibles in which the dynamics of team interaction are played out. For a healthy team, they are a thing of beauty. For an unhealthy team, they may bring out and encourage further dysfunctional behavior. The next time you go to a meeting, observe the team dynamics with a critical eye to see if your team is operating on all cylinders.

We cite here a number of ideas for establishing and carrying out meetings, as shown in Exhibit 6.3.

Exhibit 6.3: Ideas for Managing Meetings

1. Make clear the purpose of the meeting.

2. Decide if the meeting is periodic or special.

3. Establish an agenda.

4. Determine who should attend.

5. Fix the length of time for the meeting.

6. Make notes on expectations:

• Problem discussion

• Problem solving

• Information exchange and sharing

7. Elicit ideas and alternatives.

8. Define action items.

9. Have someone take minutes.

10. Determine, if necessary, when the next meeting is to occur.

The PM or CSE should have a clear idea as to the purpose of the meeting and be able to convey that purpose to the team, either in written form prior to the meeting, and certainly as the first item of the meeting. This provides focus for the meeting and avoids straying to a variety of possibly irrelevant subjects. Suggestions for extending the meeting's purpose are acceptable but are at the discretion of the leader.

All parties should know if the meeting is part of the stream of periodic meetings or is a special meeting to handle a more critical issue. In this context, when unforeseen problems arise, the leader should feel free to call a special meeting to use the team for situation analysis (see Chapter 4) and problem solving.

If possible, the team leader should establish and distribute a written agenda. This may not always be possible, as with emergencies, but it is helpful to know the scope of what the leader plans to deal with in advance. This allows team members to think about the meeting beforehand and also to bring appropriate materials to the meeting. It helps in the overall flow of the meeting and avoids a scene in which everyone is waiting for one person to retrieve important data for distribution to everyone.

The leader should give prior thought as to who should attend the meeting; they might include people who do not normally attend project meetings, such as folks from human resources, contracts, and so forth. The leader should be careful not to inadvertently exclude people who should be at the meeting or who are normally part of such deliberations. Excluding key players from meetings by not thinking may well damage the relationship with such people. No one likes to be excluded from important project considerations and problem-solving sessions.

When the meeting is announced, both a start and end time should be established. Team members are busy people who have other commitments and need to know when they can fit all these obligations into their time-pressured days. The team leader should be thoughtful about this item and not set up a pattern whereby all meetings tend to overrun by significant amounts. If you need four hours, take them, and let everyone know that the meeting will be a long one. But it should be over at the end of four hours, or earlier. Demonstrating time discipline and respect for the time of others is part of the job of the team leader.

Prior to and as preparation for the meeting, the leader should make notes on expectations for the meeting. This includes such items as discussion of the main points of a problem (schedule, cost, performance, etc.), approaches to solving the problem (e.g., alternatives), what information has to be brought to and out in the meeting (e.g., cost reports and master schedule), and anything else that appears to be relevant. These notes are not part of the agenda but are private scribblings that the leader can refer to during the meeting.

The team leader should make sure to elicit ideas from all participants. This helps not only to build the strength of the team, but also assures the broadest range of inputs from the participants. Even the quietest member of the team may have the right solution for the problem at hand. All inputs should be respected and listened to very carefully. Special attention should be paid to bringing new alternatives to the table in an attempt to define all the available options for team consideration and eventual decision and action.

The meeting should not be concluded without a clear recapitulation of all action items that flowed from the meeting. This includes actions decided on early in the meeting that may have been forgotten or overlooked. Everyone should take notes on the action items for which they are responsible. This can also be recorded on a blackboard or a whiteboard that provides immediate hard copy.

Minutes should be taken of the meeting, but these should be brief and also recap, as a minimum, all action items. Action items should carry information not only on what is to be done, but also by whom and when. This type of permanent but short record of meetings adds discipline to the process and also serves as a way of resolving potential conflicts about what was done and what conclusions were reached. This should be viewed as a way of facilitating information exchange rather than ''papering the file.'' The leader should also consider sending selected minutes to his or her boss for particularly important situations and subjects.

Finally, and before the meeting adjourns, the time for follow-up meetings, if necessary, should be determined. This allows all members to check their calendars immediately, and the best times for the next meetings can be chosen in real time.

Running effective and efficient meetings is an integral and critical part of managing a project. They should not be approached without a consciousness of their importance and what one expects to accomplish. They serve many purposes, not the least of which is to establish a productive team dynamic. As one might expect, therefore, they have been the subject of considerable attention in the literature over the years. As an example, a book on making meetings work [6.7] suggests an approach called the New Interaction Method. This method, simply put, focuses on roles and responsibilities of four key players at any meeting, namely:

• The manager/chairperson

• The facilitator

• The group member

Basically, the book supports the notion that the preceding roles will create a dynamic that keeps the meeting on course and that they are crucial functions in any meeting. In addition, a variety of helpful hints are provided, including such subjects as finding win/win solutions, establishing a good agenda, working the issue of room size, and several others. The reader with a special interest in meetings is urged to consider the referenced book as well as others on this important topic.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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