Embrace Conflict: Using Conflict to Build Constructive Teams


By Evan Piekara

Washington, DC, USA


Conflict can occur in any environment, and the success of a project is dependent on how leaders manage and resolve conflict. Issues can occur with various stakeholders (project team, client, and other influencers), and addressing these problems head-on can be the difference between meeting project demands and escalating tensions to the point of damaging the project outcome and team and client relationships.

This presentation and paper will address how to build teams that harness the positive aspects of conflict and mitigate issues before they metastasize into project and relationship-damaging discord. The paper will review common sources of conflict, the conflict lifecycle, and strategies for resolving conflict.

Conflict as an Opportunity for Communication and Growth

Since its inception, IBM has been regarded as an innovative and evolving company. Big Blue’s ability to anticipate and adapt to conflict has contributed to the company’s longevity and success. In the 1990s, IBM bundled products and reintegrated divisions in an effort to provide customers with fuller products and services. This transition fostered greater complexity and conflict among sales and delivery, as well as among previously independent divisions. Managers were not escalating or addressing conflicts across units leading to a loss of service and the erosion of competitive advantages that IBM had taken decades to forge. Without greater accountability and communication, IBM would continue to suffer losses in market share and customer satisfaction.

IBM recognized that setting and communicating expectations and collaborating across units was critical to resolving conflicts. IBM developed the Market Growth Workshop that brought managers, salespeople, and frontline specialists together to identify, discuss, and develop action steps to address conflicts across business units. The company developed a simple template that clarified expectations and forced people to document and assess issues discussed during the Market Growth Workshop. Documenting, tracking, and clarifying these issues helped to hold people accountable and manage expectations. What could have been a catastrophic spiral of coalitions between silos, finger-pointing, and selling of business units, ultimately become a way for IBM leaders to communicate, take action, and use processes and personnel to address high-stakes and highly-visible conflicts. Today, Forbes has ranked IBM as one of the world’s most valuable brands.


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About the Author

Evan Piekara

Washington, DC, USA




Evan Piekara is a Project Management Professional (PMP), Change Management Specialist (CMS), and Certified Conflict Manager (CCM). After earning an MBA from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business (MSB), Evan joined BDO USA, LLP, where he is currently a manager supporting the launch of BDO’s Public Sector Management Consulting Practice. He has supported public sector clients in transformational efforts involving change management, strategic planning, performance management and evaluation, and organizational design.   Evan can be contacted at [email protected].