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Allowing Turf Battles To Impact The Project Team – Project Management Mistake # 13 (#13 in the series 15 Deadly Project Management Mistakes Government Agencies Make Which Cost Them Revenue, Time & Efficiency)
By Keith MathisPM Expert Live

Turf battles between departments and agencies frustrate the progress of your project team. Teams are being forced to play politics with individuals over turf issues and personal preferences. Some project managers are even unaware of the abuse their teams endure surrounding turf. On one occurrence a manager refused to give information and data which was needed to successfully drive a project forward. This same manager even informed his direct staff that they were not to support the requests being made from a particular department. This turbulent culture slows down the progress of your project and increases your team’s frustration.

How are turf battles created

Turf battles are allowed due to individuals holding jobs for long periods of time and being treated as untouchable. During their tenure they have developed people they do not like and who they have disagreed with publicly. Most people with the agency will disagree, but they will do it in a nice, calm, agreeable fashion. However, others will become bitter, and they never forget it. They harbor the ideas and the situation while playing it over and over again in their heads.

Why turf battles are allowed

First, bitterness and grudges bring on many of the battles. Since many of these individuals are harboring grudges over past offenses, they have also been employed a long time. This means they have become set in their ways, and they have come to believe they can function in any manner they desire. This is reinforced when these same individuals are given glowing performance reviews each year, which only emphasizes wrong behavior and performance.

Second, the natural silo effect within the agency increases battles. I am not talking about confidential or propitiatory information. I am talking about best practices and important information that could affect the project. Some people are fearful in sharing information outside of their silo. Many times the information could benefit the project team and reduce the time needed to complete it faster, but it is still not communicated.

Third, there is no mechanism put into place to reinforce the sharing of the information outside of the silos. This makes staff willing to share feel like they are doing something wrong by letting people know some successful project techniques.

How it impacts the project team

Teams are frustrated with having to go through this type of trouble. One team member indicated he spent his entire time guarding what he said to different people because of all the turf battles. They feel that they are being forced to take sides or represent a side that is not their fight. This situation becomes even more complicated if there are several turf battles going on at the same time. The team members feel they are pushing a thousand pound weight along.

Does it not make sense to take fights like this away from your team members and deal with them through the project manager or sponsor ranks?

How to deal with them successfully

Dealing with turf battles is different depending on the person and the situation. For some situations, simple discussions with all parties involved reducing tempers. However, there are others who have no intention of making any changes or relaxing their demands. They have justified these feelings to themselves and are almost insulted that someone would even consider asking them to change. The group that refuses to change and loves the fight might need leverage from your project sponsor and upper management. One word of caution in enlisting upper management. This action will get movement on the situation, but it will sometimes prevent repairing the relationship which has been damaged. The first thing to try, in most instances, is talking with the person or persons before going to upper management.

Dr. Keith Mathis, founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds. He offers 33 Project Management courses, is a Project Management Professional, is certified by the Project Management Institute and will customize every training session to your individual company’s needs. The Mathis Group also sponsors www.pmexpertlive.com, which is a powerful project management resource with free reports, podcasts, videos, and a monthly newsletter. He also offers customized management training and coaching on any subject with prolific communication and professionalism.

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