Project Management

How Project Managers Can Smooth Interdepartmental Conflict

The custodian in high school once taught a powerful statement to our crowded lunch room: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” It means that we all play a part in making our environment better for ourselves and each other. That includes a hostile work environment. In an article for, Moira Alexander explains what project managers can do to ease tension between departments.

The Power Is Yours

If conflict originates at the top of the business, then project managers might literally be out of reach in their ability to remedy it. What they can do though is at least iterate to leadership the risks for the project that are created from a hostile situation. If leaders are aware of the potential damage they or other leaders might cause, then they might be receptive to making behaviors change.

Other elements are more directly in project managers’ control to change. For instance, minor communication breakdowns can quickly snowball into situations of grudges and resentment, where silos are enacted in the future as a matter of spite. Project managers have the power to call a spade a spade, acknowledge oversights between groups, and ensure that healthy communication continues. Likewise, when egos clash, project managers can redirect people’s energy so that they are focusing on shared project goals instead of attacking each other.

Another common discrepancy is over who should receive limited resources:

This type of conflict is likely due to surface throughout all projects and shouldn’t be new to any PM. Resources are typically limited in most companies, and this only creates a tug-of-war because of conflicting goals and perceived priorities. A project manager plays a key role in identifying and scheduling all priorities and associated resources to meet those priorities. This again is an area well within a project manager’s wheelhouse. Good project managers strive to stay on top of this type of conflict, or better yet get ahead of it whenever possible to avoid additional fall out later.

Lastly, in situations where groups are disappointed in each other’s work and cast blame at each other, project managers are not going to want to take sides. Instead, they should just help crystallize where things went wrong, and perhaps build a plan for avoiding the same pitfall the next time around.

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