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Module 5 In Class Example – Conflict Resolution Techniques
Benji is in an unenviable position. He has been asked to save a project six months into its eighteen month duration. The cause for concern is growing interpersonal conflict on the project team. The project manager, Bob, is a man in his early sixties who has alienated his team, all of whom are younger. An independent consultant, Bob brought this project to Benji’s consulting firm and brokered the arrangement with the client. Bob does not work for Benji’s firm, he is an independent contractor. The client trusts Bob because he has worked with them for years. Unfortunately the client has no prior experience working with Benji’s firm so the firm has no leverage with which to remove Bob. Bob has a lot of power.
Bob’s team is comprised of recent college graduates with no previous work experience. This is their first business project. The team perceives Bob to be at best condescending, at worst guilty of sexual harassment. Benji’s senior leaders have spoken with both Bob and the team members who have complained about him and conclude the conflict’s root cause stems from the generation gap between Bob and his team. Bob is brusque and directive and most of the harassment claims appear to really be about this leadership style. Despite coaching, Bob has not softened.
Benji won’t soon forget being summoned by his Branch Manager one Friday afternoon. Thursday night the Branch Manager had received calls from several of Bob’s team members confirming they would walk off the job if no action was taken. Since Benji was respected as a PM who tended to fix troubled projects, he got the call. Benji was on site Monday morning for two meetings, first with Bob, then with Bob’s team without Bob present. When he met with Bob, Benji learned the older man saw his young teammates as insubordinate, entitled and in need of constant gratification. Frustrated because they were amateurs who seemed impatient and unwilling to work hard, Bob said he respected everyone equally but needed to train them to become effective professionals instead of coddling them. Having expected the worst, Benji emerged hopeful.
Benji did not condone Bob’s harsh leadership style and as he met with Bob’s team most of their complaints were about this style. Surprisingly, they also thought the project was uninteresting. Benji asked them about their sexual harassment claims and they affirmed now that they thought about it the older man had not made sexual advances, instead they reiterated they took issue with his gruff style and the project’s boring content. Benji noticed something positive while they discussed all this: the team exhibited strong camaraderie. He also realized management had not set expectations so he spent a few minutes and confirmed everyone had to start somewhere and this project was one of many they would be working on during what would become long careers.
After these two meetings Benji recalled the stark directive his Branch Manager gave him on Friday, “Go there, get Bob in line and get his team back on track. Join them and make sure they continue to deliver together. Good luck.” Though he now had some useful insight into the situation, Benji still felt getting Bob and his teammates on the same page would be challenging.
Imagine you are Benji. Read through each of these five conflict resolution techniques below, confirm which of the resolution techniques is most appropriate for Benji to apply in this situation and explain why. Also, what do you think the role of confrontation or non-confrontation will have in resolving this conflict and getting Benji’s team to work together better?
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