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Sources of Conflict Among Project Teams

Though the recognition that conflict can be productive is not new ( for example, Coser, 1956; Deutsh, 1969), some of the conflict issues that organisations are dealing with are. For instance, one study (Kezsbom, 1992) looked at sources of conflict among project teams and found that the number one issue developed from goals and priority issues. Previous literature (Posner, 1986; Thamhain & Wilemon, 1975) presented the number one source of conflict as being disagreements over schedules, which ranked at number seven in Kezsbom’s study. It makes sense that goals and priority issues have risen on the list as organisations have evolved into multi-project, streamlined environments. In these new complex, hybrid organisations, employees often find themselves serving on a variety of project teams, being led by a variety of project mangers while reporting directly to functional managers. This sets the stage for Kezsbom’s third conflict category: communication and information flow. When reporting relationships are complex it becomes more difficult to share information.

Personality and interpersonal issues, ranked in the number two category by those in high technology environments, presented another dramatic change from previous studies. This change may be related to the increased use of cross-functional, self-directed teams in which individuals with technical backgrounds must rely on the work of others to get their own work done. This specifically illustrates how important it is to provide training in communication and interpersonal skills to cross-functional team members, while emphasizing an appreciation of the value of differences.

Overall, this study provides valuable insights for organisations, project leaders, and project team members. Because goal and priority issues frequently change, communication must be improved. Kezsbom (1992) makes these recommendations: