Keep your team performing well by quickly identifying and resolving conflicts.
Conflict is inherent in cross-functional team structures. Be vigilant about identifying and resolving conflict before it severely impacts team performance.
To identify conflict, monitor both project milestones as well as team member metrics. Talk with your team members frequently to suss out issues. If a milestone is missed, or a metric is off, get to the root cause quickly. When talking with your team members, ask them directly what conflict or issues they see. Don’t overreact to every little complaint but do look for trends. If everyone on the team is complaining about one individual’s behavior, you have an issue you need to resolve.
I was working as a consultant at one point, and the client had a cross-functional team. The team seemed to be working well, but we sensed a little bit of tension. We sat down with each individual client, and we asked what’s going well and what’s not. Every single one of those conversations involved one person’s name. They were a problem and there was a massive problem boiling underneath the surface. We sat down with that individual and we gave them very clear feedback. We also let them know what needed to change. By getting to that problem quickly and understanding what the conflict was, we were able to resolve it. The team worked much more effectively after that.
Team leaders need to resolve conflict both within the team and between the team and external stakeholders. External stakeholders often have resources the team needs or they have other priorities that team members need to work on. To resolve this type of conflict, go back to the project charter. Go to the conversations you had with that person’s manager or those external stakeholders about how much time and energy that person was going to put on your project. If you have a mismatch there, try and resolve the conflict quickly. Get your resources dedicated to your team and try and mitigate some of the concerns that that stakeholder has.
The more effectively you find what the conflict is, whether it’s internal to your team or with a stakeholder, the more effectively your team is going to function. Instead of focusing on conflict, your team can focus on the work.
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