Team Busters

It is important to pause for a moment on the subject of team building and acknowledge the existence of a potential counterforce to team building, namely, the ''team buster.'' This is a person, nominally a member of the project team, who works hard, either consciously or otherwise, in destroying the team that the PM and CSE are trying to build. We address here some ways to deal with such a person.

One can spot a team buster by the following types of behavior patterns, which may be manifest singly or in various combinations:

• Questions the authority of the PM and CSE at every turn.

• Challenges the management and technical approach of the PM and CSE.

• Does not follow the agreed-on decisions.

• Consistently ''goes over the head'' of his or her boss.

• Tries to monopolize meeting agendas.

• Attempts to embarrass or challenge the boss in front of others.

• If a manager, and you are not part of his or her team, by definition you are doing a poor and misguided job.

• Forces his or her people to clear all actions, and even conversations, strictly through the ''chain of command.''

• Tries to create a ''we'' and ''they'' mentality, whereby everyone who reports to the team buster is a ''we'' and everyone else is in the ''they'' group.

In point of fact, when severe enough, the team buster can only really play on one team, his or her own. The team buster undermines all attempts at team building by his or her supervisor, and is a detriment to the team. Often, this type of person can have significant talents. Otherwise, he or she would not have survived to the current level of responsibility. The team buster can also be viewed as a ''bully,'' a person who is predisposed to bullying other people to get what he or she wants. In effect, aggressive nonteam playing is a manifestation of bullying behavior.

There is only one real way to deal with a team buster. Loosely speaking, it is the ''three strikes and you're out'' solution. The first time the team buster exhibits the type of behavior cited before, the PM or CSE must have a private conversation with the team buster that makes it clear that the behavior has to change. This point must be made forcefully and emphatically. All attempts at cajoling and persuading are likely to fail, as they are ultimately viewed as signs of weakness and indecision. At the second infraction, another private discussion is called for, now making the point that if the behavior continues, the person will be removed from the job. This, of course, has to be supported in advance by the next in the chain of command, and might imply an exit from the company. When the next infraction occurs, and it usually does, all the pieces have to be in place in order to take the action of removal of the team buster from the project, and possibly from the organization at large. Again, it should be done in private, but with the appropriate member of the human resources department present. This is also an option after the second infraction.

In some cases, assistance in dealing with a team buster may be provided by human resources. This can take the form of counseling and other methods for creating awareness of the severity of the situation at hand. Again, if one is truly dealing with a team buster, the chances are that this attempt at changing behavior will not work.

The final point, with respect to a true team buster, is that the PM or CSE must act decisively and clearly, and show no signs of wavering. The behavior of the team buster poisons the team and creates all manner of havoc. There are times when reconciliation is impossible, as it usually is with the true team buster. The best solution is separation, as difficult as that may appear to be. The PM and CSE should resist blaming themselves for being unable to reform the team buster and move on to the more productive activities of team building.


Conflict can be considered an inevitable part of running a project, especially a large one. It is not necessarily and always negative. It often can be turned into a positive, growing, and learning experience. In this section, we explore how conflict may be approached and managed, and also some of the styles that people adopt in attempting to deal with conflict. As with the other interpersonal relationship issues in this book, we acknowledge that there is great deal that cannot be covered here and attempt to focus on the key elements and essentials that must be known to both the Project Manager (PM) and the Chief Systems Engineer (CSE).

6.5.1 Areas of Conflict

Studies have shown the areas in which conflict tends to arise most frequently. Apparently, these areas have also changed with time. As an example, the following list shows conflict areas and their rank in studies in 1986 and in 1976 [6.5]:

Conflict Area Rank in 1976 Rank in 1986

Schedules 1 1

Costs 6 2

Priorities 2 3

Staffing 3 4

Technical opinions 4 5

Personality 7 6

Procedures 5 7

It is interesting to note the persistence of schedules over the decade shown as the number 1 area in which there is conflict. Costs jumped into the number 2 position, with overall priorities staying within the top three. Thus, we see schedule and cost as critical items over which conflict occurs. Technical opinions is about midrange in both lists, and personality conflicts are present but toward the bottom of the list.

Conflicts regarding impersonal issues (schedules, costs, etc.) can be easier to deal with than personal issues. In principle, the former deal with different perceptions of objective facts. Personal issues are less than objective, and people will be at odds with one another simply because they do not like or approve of one another. From the point of view of the PM or the CSE, conflicts and conflict management should be considered part of the job. The question is how to deal with it when it does occur and what are one's individual propensities toward coping with conflict situations. These are referred to in the literature as conflict resolution styles, and are examined in what follows.

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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