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Coach's Corner--February 25, 2008

Overcoming conflict to build teamwork starts with communication

The Client
Name: Ruth
Age: 38
Title: Technology manager
Years at company: 12 (3 in current role)
Industry: Retail
Issue: Overcoming conflict to ensure a successful project launch
Q. I have responsibility for a large new project. Several departments that don’t usually work well together will have to collaborate for the project to succeed. What should I do in the kickoff meeting to get this project off to a good start? 

Problems in organizations often arise when workers don’t get along. Your key is to bring the team together in a way that allows them to leave past conflicts behind. This is simple, but not easy. First, get yourself ready, and then move on to the outer steps.

The inner game
Look inside. Understand your goals for this situation and your feelings about it. Get yourself ready for the upcoming interactions; you’ll see lasting results. 

Step 1 — Your goals: If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know if you’ve achieved it. Create a clear vision for a successful meeting. Move from the vague “everyone will get along” to very specific items like, “people will not shoot down ideas when brainstorming” and “we will develop clear roles and responsibilities.” Also, be conscious of whatever you, personally and professionally, want to gain from this project. 

Step 2 — Your feelings: Clarify how you feel about the project, writing out your thoughts, or discussing the questions below with someone you trust:
•  What are your positive and negative feelings about the situation?
•  How do you feel about the people on the project?
•  How do you handle it inside when you are challenged by others?
Then, develop concrete strategies to manage your emotions. Taking a few deep breaths helps in stressful situations, while visualizing how you’ll handle challenges and disruptions in the meeting can help you prepare.

The outer game
To get your project going well, get other players on board before the group even meets. Here’s how: First, meet one-on-one with attendees to learn about their hopes and concerns, and to enlist their support. Spending individual time with people sends a powerful message about their value and helps build their commitment to working together effectively.

Many organizations have people with a track record for derailing projects. If there is someone like that in your group, analyze what they may really want. Here’s a hint: Many people are driven by power or fear. How does that fit?

To prepare for the meeting, draft a set of ground rules concerning how you’ll communicate, make decisions and work through disagreements. You’ll start the session by modifying and agreeing on them. Also, have the team decide how to enforce them. Find a playful way to remind people of the rules (without sounding preachy) when they slip, as they are likely to do. 

Right before the meeting, review your intentions and your meeting management plans. Take three deep breaths to get centered, and you’re ready to go.

The last word
Most people are willing to work together constructively if someone shows them the way. Use this opportunity to steer your team in the right direction, and watch project success follow.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted February 25, 2008
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