ERP Project Team: Anatomy of an ERP Team Part 7 - Conflict

Now that you’ve assembled an ERP team of talented, diverse people who are all united in a common goal around a difficult objective, how do you manage the conflict that will inevitably emerge from that combination?

Healthy conflict is absolutely essential for a high performance team, so the first task is to make certain that everyone understands the difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict. The difference between the two generally comes down to two conditions: (1) The level of trust between team members and (2) The willingness to subordinate ego to the mission objective. These problems may sound vague at first, but as you begin trying to resolve conflicts, you will almost certainly run into these two.

When ERP team members trust each other explicitly, a disagreement is always understood to be about the quality of the ideas being debated, not about the quality of the people who generated the idea. With trust, the relationship is exactly as strong after the disagreement as before. Without trust, the converse is true; things tend to be taken personally, and the discussions become emotional. After the disagreement, lingering feelings of anger or animosity remain. Trust seems to come easiest when team members possess high degrees of self-confidence (another argument for recruiting talented people).

No Room for Ego

An unwillingness to subordinate ego simply means that it is more important for a team member to be right than to arrive at the best team answer. This can manifest itself in many different ways: an unwillingness to abandon an untenable point of view; a preoccupation with who gets credit; mental math that says if I lost this argument, then I “deserve” to win the next. If a team can strip away ego from a discussion, then all that remains is reasoning, and the best reasoning prevails.

Be especially aware of team members at each end of the conflict spectrum. Some people find conflict of any kind physically upsetting, resulting in tears, high blood pressure, ulcers, or insomnia. These team members will not be able to engage in a heated debate of ideas around complex subjects, so you might as well figure out another way to make use of their talents. Worse than this group, however, are “devil’s advocates”; people who are so comfortable with conflict, they introduce it even when it is not needed or called for. These people will bring an ERP team to its knees, and devil’s advocates must learn to modify their behavior, or be removed from the team.

A team IQ is totally different from individual IQs. Being individually smart has nothing to do with being team smart. Healthy conflict, in which the best answer emerges based on the best reasoning, is essential for an ERP team’s success. Unhealthy conflict will result in team members who do not listen to each other and grow to dislike their teammates more and more over time. Make sure your ERP team understands this.

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Phil Marshall

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Phil Marshall