Team dynamics and the perils of agreement

Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


Project managers are accustomed to avoiding, and overcoming disagreements inside the team, amongst stakeholders, with suppliers and with others senior managers, sponsors and leaders. Indeed, the abilities to remove or resolve conflict and deal with contradictions are highly prized in leaders in most domains.

Project management has followed a similar set of traditions and assumptions. The 6th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge focuses on the seven crucial interpersonal skills, which include conflict resolution, alongside communication, delegation, influencing, leadership, negotiation and teamwork. Similarly, The 6th edition of PMI’s A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge makes multiple references to conflict management, before addressing it as a key area under the Project Resource Management knowledge area, identifying it as a key interpersonal and team skill, alongside decision making, emotional intelligence, influencing, and leadership. IPMA’s Individual Competence Baseline also makes a reference to the area of ‘conflict and crisis’ under the people section, given the need to moderate or solve conflicts and crises.

Conflict can be defined as different objectives and attitudes between two or more parties. Conflict management is the process of identifying and addressing differences that, if left unresolved, could affect objectives.’ (APM, 2012; p. 56)

The success of project managers in managing their project often depends on their ability to resolve conflict.’ (PMI, 2017; p. 348)

The potential means of resolving conflicts involve collaboration, compromise, prevention or the use of power.’ (IPMA, 2015; p. 86)

The Oxford Dictionary defines conflict as: a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one; a prolonged armed struggle; or, a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles or interests. Given the implication of disagreement between ideas, beliefs or perspectives, it is only natural that managers and leaders try to minimise disagreements and maintain harmony and balance.

But what if the core of our problems stems from agreement rather than conflict?

The real problem with agreement

Variation is highly cherished, especially in teams, in order to avoid homogenous thinking and problem resolution. Nature also favours variation as a mechanism for infusing diversity, resilience and flexibility. Design is often informed by the creativity that emerges from the conflict between ideas, needs and perspectives.

Project teams bring together a diversity of opinions, views and team members encouraging a wider spectrum of approaches designed to avoid the uniformity and conformity of groupthink and encourage diversity through challenge. And yet, project managers often seek to banish conflict in order to simplify decision making, reach consensus, and limit the potential for disagreements and blockages in systems, plans and the execution of initiatives.

The approaches for addressing the harmful impacts of excessive conflict are well featured in the literature, but what about the harmful impact of violent (or perhaps, silent) agreement? Can agreement, which after all seems to be the outcome of effective conflict resolution, become powerful enough to undermine a good project or destabilise a good team? Can absolute agreement derail success?

A journey to Abilene

US management scholar Jerry B. Harvey (1974) captured the risks of agreement in the following tale.

On an extremely hot July afternoon, a couple is visiting the wife’s parents in Coleman, Texas. The temperature of 104 degrees combines with a persistent wind that re-distributes the topsoil throughout the house to make being outdoors unpleasant. But as they settle on the back porch, the family has an old-fashioned fan, cold lemonade and is becoming engrossed in a game of dominoes. This has the makings of an agreeable, if slightly lazy afternoon, in Coleman, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene, 53 miles North, to have dinner in the cafeteria…


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. In October 2011 he was awarded a prestigious lifetime Honorary Fellowship from the Association for Project Management for outstanding contribution to the discipline of project management. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has delivered lectures and courses in many leading institutions worldwide, and has won multiple awards and prizes. He has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering and published over 30 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Software: Evolution and Process published by John Wiley. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series, Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.  Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.