Operational Excellence

Managing Creative Differences Amongst Your Team Members

by Brad Egeland, December 8, 2014

Having a team that can think on their own is great. Having a team that comes to blows due to all that individual thinking is a different matter completely. Conflict resolution is one of those project management responsibilities that most of us project managers like to put down on our resumes and our LinkedIn profiles. However, in reality we try to ignore it, avoid it like the plague or pass it on to our project team member’s direct supervisor. We are the leaders - the chosen project manager for the engagement - and we should be able to manage our team as well as any issues or conflicts that arise between them during the course of the engagement.

But it is never fun…and usually it isn’t very easy either. And especially on the creative team everyone has a great deal of creative talent and individual thinking. That’s why they are tasked with ad campaigns, marketing undertakings, design projects and similar projects. They have the skills that our clients need in order to get the job done. Do they always think alike? Almost never…because we don’t usually want clones on our teams…that wouldn’t be very effective or productive, would it?

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So when two of these very skilled, creative and opinionated individuals come up with ideas that clash and they stand their ground behind their own concepts, what do you do? Ignore them and move on to the next team member? How well do you think that would really work? Do you just let them duke it out? Not a good idea. Let’s consider the three-step process below…

Meet individually with each individual in conflict.

The start of any resolution process has to begin with a complete understanding of each individual’s opinion or proposal that is conflicting with the other(s). First, you’re letting them be heard and that’s extremely important in a situation like this. Second, you are getting the full story from each individual involved separately, so you are understanding what thought processes and emotions are behind his/her idea. It will also help you, as the leader, understand if their ideas merit strong consideration as the proper path to take.

Meet with all individuals (usually two) together that are in conflict.

You may not look forward to this – especially if there have been heated discussions – but you have to get the two parties together to discuss. This serves at least two purposes… 1) to discuss the ideas in a smaller and closed setting and hopefully ease tensions so that you can come out of the meeting with just one idea to present and 2) it can smooth over the conflict that team members must get past in order to work productively together for the rest of the project. The only alternative to this would be for you to replace one or both members on the project because the bottom line is: the buck stops here…you have to get past it or the project will never get done…and that’s what you as the project manager have to be the most concerned about.

Meet as a team to decide on the best approach.

Finally, gather as a team to discuss project approaches and ideas again. Job #1 is making sure that your team is moving forward together and on the same page…otherwise everything will be hard for the rest of the project and the likelihood that the engagement will end with a satisfied client is small.

Resolving conflicts is never fun. And sometimes it can even breed resentment toward the project leader who has to help resolve the conflict in order to get the campaign moving forward in the right, productive direction. It takes a strong leader, a decisive leader, and a trusted individual to help the project team members get past this type of conflict and work together cohesively for the good of the project and client. That’s the project manager.

How about you? What happens on your projects when creative ideas collide and no one wants to budge? What processes have been employed on your projects to help the team get past these types of roadblocks and working productively and collaboratively together again?


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