We Can’t Roll with Role Conflict

Filed under Career | Posted by MMeloni

In perfect 20/20 hindsight, Mary Carol realized that what the team was facing was a classic case of role conflict, and perhaps role ambiguity too. Two team members had just come to her to complain about a third team member. Although at first she was surprised, Mary Carol realized that she could have seen this coming.

“Why should we bother attending design reviews if he is not going to listen to any of our ideas?” asked both team members in unison.

The design reviews in question had required some heavy facilitation and there were clearly some disagreements about the best way to move forward with the new system. Truthfully it would have been a surprise if there had been no conflict around the design. In fact it was better to have the conflict NOW before the design was solidified.

After listening to the two concerned team members, Mary Carol changed the next design review to a touch base session with all three of the team members involved. While she pondered how to handle this potentially emotionally charged conversation, she had an ‘Aha moment’.  The tool she needed to guide the team through this conversation was at her fingertips. In fact she wished she had been more formal in her approach and had created this item earlier.

What was this magical tool? The responsibility assignment matrix or RAM. Using the responsibility assignment matrix to walk each team member through their roles in the design process would make it easier to clear up role misunderstandings and address role conflict. It would also create a conversation that was less about two-team members complaining about the third and more of a conversation about shared expectations and responsibilities. It was clear that all three team members had some confusion about their roles. And Mary Carol knew that role conflict and role ambiguity created stress for project team members. She also knew her role was to resolve this exact type of conflict.  She was glad to be able to use the RAM as the focal point of this discussion.

To prepare for the meeting Mary Carol created a draft RAM, filling in the names of the team members and the work to be completed. She purposefully left the rest empty so that together they could fill it out and when team members disagreed about their roles, she was ready to facilitate the conversation.

What a relief to have project management tools and techniques that help to ease the tensions in a potentially difficult situation. That is the art and science of project management!