Whether it’s raised eyebrows and eyerolling or a full-on shouting match, projects are a conflict-inflicted environment!
You could be on the receiving end of the conflict because team members or stakeholders have fallen out over something. Or you could be contributing to it, having to address an issue such as not having enough money to complete the work.
As a self-confessed conflict avoider, I have always wanted to get conflict dealt with and out the way as soon as possible, so we can all get back to work. Here are 3 options for diffusing conflict situations on a project.
1. Take the heat out of the situation
One option – one of my favourites because it’s not confrontational – is to help everyone calm down a bit.
Oftentimes, a problem doesn’t look so bad with a bit of distance, and the heat disappears from the conflict.
The simplest thing to do here is to draw a line under the conversation, take a pause, and say you’ll come back to the conflict-causing topic at another time.
Remember to actually address the topic at that time, though, otherwise you just cause seething resentment in the team members who want to air their views and haven’t had the opportunity to.
If you are one of those people who can diffuse tension in a room with a joke, go for it. I’m not, so I wouldn’t risk saying something not very funny and making the situation worse, so I opt for calm voices, and a short pause in proceedings.
It’s so difficult to be rude or argumentative to someone who agrees with you. I don’t remember who I learned this from as a retail assistant in a busy shop while I was at college, but it certainly works with angry customers.
If you aren’t defensive, they stop fighting. It’s no fun arguing with someone who isn’t arguing back and who appears to actually be on your side.
Obviously, this isn’t going to work in every scenario. You can’t agree with a construction worker who is choosing not to wear protective gear on a building site and causing a fuss about it.
But in some situations, this is a good technique to try. You can always move the discussion along and use other techniques if necessary.
3. Say you are sorry
Again, this isn’t a solution appropriate for every project conflict situation. However, you shouldn’t be above saying sorry. If the mistake is yours, own it. Sometimes that’s all people want – for someone else to accept the issue happened and to own up to it.
I’ve been in meetings where I’ve taken the blame for something the project team did (collectively) as I’m the one who is responsible for the successful delivery. And we didn’t deliver. That’s on me. The body language of the person with the complaint changed significantly after I said sorry. The discussion moved on.
These 3 techniques aren’t going to win you any peace treaty awards, but for day-to-day small gripes and grumbles on a team, they are easy things to try. What’s your best tip for keeping the peace on a project?
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I’ll come straight out and say it: I’m in the Yes camp.
I believe that you should let your team work from home. There are so many benefits for individuals, families and, by virtue of the fact that workers are happier, employers and managers too. Let me explain why I’m a believer in homeworking.
Homeworkers Save Money
When I first got interested in finding out about homeworking I went to an event: The Remote Workers Awards. The awards celebrated companies who let their employees work from home but had a very financial overtone. A presenter explained the financial benefits to his company of having homeworkers and they included:
And I’m sure there were some other things in there that he mentioned that I don’t recall.
As homeworkers don’t need a permanent desk in the office you can have a smaller office. They can hot desk if they come in. With fewer workers on site you don’t need as many resources and the office overheads are smaller. You’ll also find that homeworkers provide some of their own kit – I use my own chair and desk for example, although some companies will pay for this set up for remote workers if it is required.
Homeworkers Work More Hours
A common believe is that if you let your team work from home then they’ll slack off more because they can. A long lunchbreak watching Jeremy Kyle? That’s never happened to me.
No, genuinely, that’s never happened to me.
Work-from-home-rs are more likely to work longer hours because their office is just there. Without the commute you can start earlier and finish later. Overall the time you spend working is often longer because you aren’t leaving the office at 4pm to get home – you can work until 5.30pm and still get home earlier than commuters.
If you work from home I think the bigger problem is knowing when to stop. Still checking and responding to emails from the sofa at 10.30pm? Yes, that has happened to me.
Homeworkers Are More Loyal
The homeworkers I know fiercely protect their ability to work flexibly. It’s a perk so valued that I know people who won’t look for another job because they feel they wouldn’t get the same commitment to flexible working from another firm.
That loyalty and motivation is something that employers value. It’s expensive to onboard a new project manager, and having someone around who understands how things work and who has good working relationships with teams across the business is valuable.
You’ll notice that I haven’t included any links to research studies in here. Over the years I have researched this topic extensively and there is a lot of data out there to back up the benefits of flexible working and results-based workplaces.
There are new studies coming out all the time. If you want to find the data it won’t take you very long to find something up-to-date and probably specific to your industry.
However, there is one living breathing study that I’m part of that I think proves why you should let your project team work from home.
My own personal experiment.
I’m The Proof
I work from home a couple of days a week. I have an office in my garden. It’s far enough away from the house for me not to be disturbed or to be constantly thinking I have to put a load of washing on. But it’s close enough to pop back in for lunch or to take a delivery. And it means my commute is seconds.
The commute being only seconds is one of the hardest things to adjust to as a home worker. If you have had a difficult day, or challenging meetings, then a commute gives you time to unwind, refocus into ‘home’ mode and face the family without the burden of the office on your shoulders. I don’t get that, and I have to switch between ‘work’ and ‘home’ almost instantly, regardless of the time I need to mentally process the day. That has to come later – often much later such as when I am getting ready for bed, and l don’t recommend lying in bed trying to fall asleep while also trying to unpick the office politics of a particular meeting.
So, are you convinced? Or are you doing it already? Let me know what you think about letting your project team work from home in the comments below.
Today I wanted to share this infographic on the cost of unproductive meetings. I work virtually a lot of the time, but that doesn't generate half as many meetings as when I am physically in the office with my colleagues. Perhaps it's because when they see me they are keen to chat, or perhaps they forget I'm around to invite when I'm working out of the office.
When I attend meetings, and I'm sure you'll say the same, they often start with general chat or get derailed (obviously not the ones I'm chairing...!). When you add up the fact we spend around 7 days a month in meetings that's a lot of time wasted if you don't get the best out of your meetings. Have a look at the figures and I'll join you again at the bottom.
This infographic was put together by http://facilitationfirst.com/
I was surprised that only 73% of people confess to multi-tasking during meetings but we should also acknowledge that it isn't always a bad thing. I've been in a few meetings recently where someone asked a question and the group didn't have the data. A team manager Skype'd her colleague, got the response and shared the information with us so we could continue to debate that point. That's multi-tasking, but it's productive and useful and probably saved us from having a follow up meeting.
I'd also question that 50% of meetings are unnecessary. They might have the wrong people in the room, and if an exec says a meeting is unnecessary then they might simply mean that they personally didn't have to be there, not that the meeting shouldn't have happened at all.
We do need to make sure that project meetings involve the right group of people: senior enough to take ownership for decisions and move things forward but not so senior that it's too much detail for them and wastes their time (or lets them meddle in tasks that we'd rather they stayed out of).
So, what do you think about this data? Share your thoughts on meetings good and bad in the comments below. And is the answer better meeting management or just scrapping meetings altogether?
Projects often require out of hours work. That means someone staying late or working over the weekend (or in other non-normal working time) to complete project tasks. It happens in many industries: in IT for example you can’t always make changes to systems during working hours as it stops the production system, so someone has to make those changes at night when the office is closed – and if they can’t be automated then it really does mean someone staying up to press a button.
I haven’t come across many project team members who are willing to work unsociable hours, unless they are getting paid a lot to do so. Therefore you have to handle the requirement for out of hours work sensitively as it does normally mean someone giving up their social and family time to do project work. Here are some guidelines for managing project tasks that have to happen out of hours.
Is it planned?
First, consider if the project task is planned. That could include:
I’m sure you can think of other things relevant to your industries and projects that involve out of hours tasks.
If out of hours work can be planned, then it can be managed.
Provide lots of notice. The more notice people have, the easier it is for them to rearrange their other activities and tasks around this. No one likes to be told that they have to work out of hours at short notice (more on this later). Keep reminding them that the out of hours work is coming up and checking that it is still on their radar.
Arrange who is required. When work is out of hours it can be hard to call in a colleague if you have forgotten something. You can’t just dial up your mate at 3am and ask them to do something. So make sure you have lined up the right resources from the outset. This could involve you or a project team leader, the resource in question, technical or IT staff and someone from the vendor.
Check access. If you are going to site, make sure they remember you are coming and haven’t locked up. If you need access to a secure area, check that someone is available to let you in.
Check the facilities. Do they need to take their own food with them? The canteen on site closing at six isn’t going to be a problem for the normal staff, but if your project team goes on shift then and is planning to work through the night, make sure they’ve got the facilities to at least make themselves a cup of tea. If necessary, turn up yourself with cake – I have done this and it was really appreciated, even though I contributed very little to the actual project tasks in hand.
Arrange overtime payments. Let the individuals know how they will be compensated for working out of hours so there are no surprises. This could be overtime at time and a half or double time, or time off in lieu.
Is it an emergency?
Sometimes project work has to happen as a matter of urgency. Sometimes stuff happens that creates problems that have to be fixed immediately (like a technical failure in the middle of a training course) and that might mean calling someone in when they are supposed to be on leave or asking someone on a Friday afternoon to stay late and work all weekend. Because most project disasters happen on a Friday at 4pm, don’t they?
This type of out of hours work should be managed through your project issue management process.
Organise channels of communication. Make sure that the individuals know who to talk to and who they need to report to when the problem is fixed.
Appoint an issue owner. If you aren’t going to be managing this issue through to resolution, make sure you appoint someone else. Let everyone know who is the main point of contact for decisions, whether that is you or a colleague.
Deal with the problem. Do the work. Get the project back on track. Then fill in the issue log with the resolution and do any other project reporting that you have to and update your project plan.
Recognise the effort. Again, if you have had staff work out of hours in order to resolve a problem, look at how this can be rewarded and recognised. If you can, pay overtime for the hours worked. If you can’t, time off in lieu is normally at your discretion. Say thank you – they got you out of a hole.
Out of hours work is part of managing many projects and you can keep your team on side while you ask them to work unsociable hours for practically nothing. Keep cheerful, keep them cheerful and explain the benefits of the project over and over again. And above all, be grateful. Very few people have ‘must work overtime for project manager’ in their contract so recognise their commitment and thank them for their contribution to a successful project.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at ProjectManagement.com this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.
Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.
First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:
And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.
When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:
OK? Let’s get started.
I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.
It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.
Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.
Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.
One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.
I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.
So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?