Definition of X-Factor
“a hard to describe variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome”
Does the following sound familiar?
Planning Teams develop ‘blue sky’ concepts with admirable objectives. Then Development Teams are tasked with addressing the major uncertainties and turning the concept into something operable. Delivery Teams are driven by the practicalities of on-time, on-cost delivery, which may mean some changes along the way, sometimes at the compromise of the real project value – its identified outcomes and benefits.
It can be difficult to keep the team aligned to the project’s strategic vision. Ideally from the outset, Planning, Development and Delivery Teams should each be involved in all stages of the project to ensure their unique viewpoint is represented. This is essential to ensure the project can successfully transition through the stages to operation. However, conflict often gets in the way.
Conflict – The enemy of successful projects?
Conflict can appear at any stage of a project lifecycle but the seeds are often sown at the early planning stage – and this is where we will focus. Conflict can arise where there is:
- disagreement regarding project objectives
- differing cultures, belief systems and working practices
- lack of understanding of the unique challenges faced at different stages across the lifecycle
- poor or infrequent communication between parties.
Each of these factors has a significant impact that can reduce the potential outcomes or even derail a project. The more stakeholders introduced to the mix, the more complex things can become – and the opportunity for conflict increases.
Or the key to success?
But conflict doesn’t have to be something to fear. By adopting a healthy approach to managing conflict, objectives can be aligned and even complex projects can deliver the benefits that the ‘blue sky’ thinkers envisaged.
In the ‘forming’ and ‘storming’ stage of a project, expect disagreements. Expect meetings that go off track. Expect to feel like you are making no progress. This is a process that the team needs to go through to get on the same page. By trying to rush this process or circumventing the ‘trouble makers’ there will be greater problems ahead – you may even find yourself sidelined in the future. Encourage healthy dialogue. Do not have pre-conceived ideas of the solution. Allow people to be heard and build on the ideas of each other. Just when you are about to hit complete despair you will notice that the team start to come together, aligning on issues where there has previously been disagreement. You will notice the team is ‘norming’.
Key steps to embracing conflict
We always recommend adopting an engagement approach that embraces conflict:
- Create a safe environment for people to express their views – even if they are not aligned to the consensus
- Try and avoid doggedly pursuing a single agenda – be open to other ideas
- Provide plenty of occasions where issues can be discussed and talked through
- Embrace co-design principles at every opportunity – including the development of the project objectives and key messages
- Use the project objectives as a basis for joint decision making
- Adopt different engagement techniques for different individuals depending on their personality type – not everyone can thrive in large group environment.
There will always be differing opinions – but the best project outcomes will be achieved through diversity of thought.
There isn’t a magic bullet, and in these days of quantifiable results, it can be difficult to prove; but we are finding that embracing conflict is giving projects the X-Factor, adding that certain something that defies definition.
There is no denying that it can be a difficult process, and can sometimes take longer – resulting in doubts about the value: but perseverance will give the best chance of the team’s objectives being aligned and the project delivering to its full potential. The final results will make it all worthwhile.