"As long as you live under my roof, you'll do as I say" - If the project manager leads differently than I would

Here are three observed stories relating to how to deal with personal conflicts within projects.

A colleague of mine moved from working solely with Zühlke people to a project team with members from several service providers. After a few days, he complained that the way of working and the approach in his new project was completely different compared to what he was used to when working with Zühlke teams. He was worried that this approach would not result in a successful project.

Another colleague switched from several Zühlke-led projects to another project in which he was the only Zühlke employee. After one month, during which procedures in the project seemed to change arbitrarily on a daily basis and with non-existent internal communication, he was frustrated and wanted to leave the project.

I joined and assisted this project team during a transitional period of 2 months. After just a few days, it became clear to me that I would not be able to work efficiently in this project, because the leadership and communication were very different to how I would have set up and managed the project.

These are three real examples from my close environment and three times the question is: Is it bad just because it is different and how do I best deal with these "differences" ?

To use the words of Henry Ford, I see three ways regarding how to act: "Love it, leave it, or change it”

The most gallant way to deal with the situation is to simply accept it. Which means not only accepting but also trying to understand and then support the way of working, as well as perhaps adopting a different mindset and changing your own behaviour so that it is more aligned with that of the other members of the project. The advantage with this approach is that it causes little friction within the project. But the most important aspect in my opinion is that it gives you the opportunity to try different ways of working and new approaches, and the possibility to learn and increase your personal level of growth, as you find yourself on a new path that you would maybe never have chosen yourself, and can thus gain further experience. A key point from my point of view is that you should remain true to yourself and show your integrity at all times.

If the situation changes in a way that means you are no longer able to deal with it, it won’t help to just talk about it in a negative way. Then it is time for a change. Change starts with each one of us making small compromises. The way we share or ask for information, talk to each other, act in meetings and support team members or maintain our network. By enforcing change, you have the possibility to bring the project to the next level of maturity. But there is also a certain risk that you force a change that is not appropriate just because you are used to working in that way. And you have to keep in mind that most people are not enthusiastic about hearing someone questioning their way of working and insisting that they change something themselves. In the worst case, they may try to make the situation worse for you than before, by reducing your involvement and so on. You need to be prepared for such outcomes. Therefore, I suggest handling people with care and involving them in the flow of change, by showing them what they can gain and why they will benefit from the change.

You may have tried to adapt to your team’s way of working but then discovered that you are still dissatisfied. And you may have tried to change the way things are done, but instead of finding a solution that is suitable for everyone, you simply found rejection and resistance. At this point, the best alternative is to withdraw or to at least ask the line manager for help with leaving the project. Not as an escape but as a way of protecting you and the team, if the situation is not acceptable and proposals are not welcome.

At the end of the day, you have to look in the mirror and decide for yourself about the best course of action. Was the behaviour of the others (team or project manager) fundamentally wrong or just different? Was I too set in my ways to properly get involved in the new approach or did I try my best to be efficient in the project? Were my suggestions for change appropriate or did I offend my colleagues rather than motivate them? All these questions can help with the decision - love, change or leave - to be at peace with yourself. The most important point is to take a decision, rather than just creating a negative atmosphere in the team by e.g. taking negative actions or making negative speeches. Because a negative atmosphere is the worst thing that can happen in a team, and will result in it losing its effectiveness.

By Sabrina Lange