Project Management

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Whether it’s in-person or virtual, PMI events give you the right skills to complete amazing projects. In this blog, whether it be our Virtual Experience Series, PMI Training (formerly Seminars World) or PMI® Global Summit, experienced event presenters past, present and future from the entire PMI event family share their knowledge on a wide range of issues important to project managers.

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Cameron McGaughy
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A group of cats, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and llamas *CAN* be herded.

Yes, a cross-functional team of experts CAN work.  A great example of this is a symphonic orchestra.  There are brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion…  Each is a master of their instrument and has unique knowledge that the other members of the orchestra don’t.  Clearly this is a cross-functional team – made up of experts – with large amounts of informational diversity, yet the work beautifully together.   As project managers, there are lessons we can learn from the orchestra example.   

But first, let’s talk about disagreements.  They will happen, hardly anyone doubts that.  A cross-functional team will have conflicts, and these conflicts have been shown to be harmful to the end result of the project (discussed in the blog: ” How hard is it to herd a group of cats, cows, sheep, goats, dogs and llamas?”


Conflict in a project team with high informational diversity is nearly inevitable.  I, myself have been in LARGE emotionally-charged, life-altering, conflicts about technical items with mechanical engineers, and aerodynamicists and others.   The sources of conflict will vary according to the type of project your managing and the life cycle stage the project is in.  Conflict will happen. 


There are two schools of thought about team conflict.  One is called the “Traditional view.”  It was developed in the 19th century, was prevalent through the 1940s and still exists today.   I see it sometimes various companies. 

The guidelines of the traditional view are:

  • Conflict is bad
  • Always has a negative effect on projects
  • Performance declines as conflict increases
  • Conflict must be avoided

In the traditional view, the manager is responsible to free the project of any source of conflict, by reducing, suppressing or eliminating it.  

The second and more modern view of team conflict is:

  • Conflict is natural and inevitable
  • It may have either a positive or negative effect
  • Project Managers should focus on managing conflict rather than eliminating it



Now comes the hard part.  It’s your job as the Project Manager to also manage any conflict that may arise.  Remember, you have a group of people that have high informational diversity, often can’t communicate with each other very well and you’re attempting to produce the product of the project.   How do you handle it?

  • Encourage Functional Conflict!
  • Ask tough questions
  • Invite members with different views to speak
  • Appoint a “Advocatus Diaboli” (Devil’s Advocate)
  • Consider alternatives

Again, there have been lots of studies dealing with the value of the “interactionist view” of dealing with conflict

  • “Engaging conflicts about tasks yield better decisions” (Schwenk and Valacich 1994)
  • “Explicit task disagreements help group members better identify project issues” (Putnam 1994)
  • “Disagreements within groups encouraged group members to develop new ideas and approaches” (Baron 1991)


Posted by David Maynard on: September 06, 2016 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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