Cross-Functional Projects and Conflict: A marriage made in heaven

November 2, 2013

Conflict during a project is a good thing as long as it is properly managed.  The advantages of having conflict during the course of a project are improved personal growth and morale, valuable communication, and the ability to produce high-quality project outcomes.

The stakes are very high for successful cross-functional projects.  Cross-functional projects will have the biggest impact on your organization.  That impact can be negative or positive.  When conflict management is done properly during these projects you can create a high performing, cross-functional project team that delivers superior project success rates.

Conflict ManagementThe challenge for project managers is to maintain the right balance and intensity of conflict in a matrix management environment. By learning approaches to conflict resolution, managers will be able to establish a positive environment in which creativity and innovation is encouraged and project goals are accomplished.

In my various project management studies, I have been taught several methods to approach conflict resolution, such as confronting, compromising, smoothing, forcing, and avoiding.  I am sure they sound familiar to those of you with a PMP Certification.  These methods all have their advantages and disadvantages, but none are full proof.

It was my education in cognitive analysis that helped me understand that there is a full proof approach to all conflicts that arise during a project.  Cognitive analysis is the most effective way of approaching and resolving conflict particularly on cross-functional projects.

Active listening, a core component of cognitive analysis, identifies the main source of conflict between individuals or teams.  Developing the skill of active listening takes practice, but it can be extremely effective when mastered.

Listening allows the conflict to take its natural course by giving individuals or teams:

–         An opportunity to disagree

–         Express strong opinions

–         Show passion for ideas.

When a project manager masters “actively listening” a respect for individual differences is demonstrated and an environment of understanding is fostered.    Cognitive feedback is produced through listening.  Using cognitive analysis each individual’s judgment can be compared to their counterparts. The team now has greater insight and gives them an opportunity to reach an acceptable resolution to the conflict.

My use of cognitive analysis resulted in more agreements among the parties in conflict than the traditional project management methods of conflict resolution. Cognitive feedback provides me with information on reasons why the disagreement occurred among the parties and on the areas that needed to be addressed to reach an agreement.  Ultimately this approach allows the project team to concentrate on the real differences that provoked the disagreement rather than only discussing the effects of the conflicting situation (separating people from the problem).

When first utilizing cognitive analysis to resolve conflicts additional spin-off meetings may occur, but the time spent will be well worth it throughout the project.  The more conflicts are resolved in this manner you’ll begin that positive change necessary on the road to creating a high performance, cross-functional team and it will have a positive impact on all future projects.


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