“Wake Up, Little Susie” was the third song I learned to play on the guitar, so I was understandably sad to hear that Phil Everly had passed away. Phil and brother Don influenced just about everyone who sang harmonies over guitars for the last fifty or so years, but the truth is, they didn’t get along so well. There was a ten year period where they never spoke, except at their father’s funeral. I’m not sure why, but that seems pretty common among guitar-playing brothers. John and Tom Fogarty, of Credence Clearwater Revival, had a similar falling out, as did Phil and Dave Alvin of The Blasters, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, and Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks.
Although not brothers, the four original members of Los Lobos are still together, on their 40th anniversary tour. Close friends in high school, they have been playing together since they were teenagers. What keeps them together might be the fifth member of the band, Steve Berlin, who joined them thirty years ago. In addition to playing sax and keyboards, he serves as the band’s producer. By all reports, the band members have all the characteristics of a family, from the close relationships to the occasional meanness and simmering animosities, but Steve keeps the wheels moving when they go in to the studio to record. “[W]hat I get to do, as producer, is I get to come be the guy on the white horse and solve all that shit for, like, six weeks and then we all go back to being mean to each other. If I’m doing my job right then they all forget how much they all hate each other. I get everyone pulling on the same end of the rope and then we go back to normal.” Steve understands the consequences of unresolved conflicts, because he used to play in The Blasters with the Alvin brothers.
One of the advantages of being an IT project manager is that you’re not likely to be working with your brothers, or guys you went to high school with. Chances are many of the folks you’ll work with either don’t know each other that well, or have a pleasant, if not long-standing, collegial relationship. They don’t have a lot of history to overcome. That’s the good news. The bad news is, animosities can form out of simple differences of opinion, on a purely technical matter. The next thing you know, people are taking up sides, politicking for support, and productivity is down. As the project manager, you don’t need to ride in on a white horse, but you do need to get everyone pulling on the same end of the rope.
Don’t let hostilities build. Intervene, as soon as possible, and drive agreement where possible. Where it isn’t possible, drive a decision and ensure that everyone understands that it’s final. You can’t overcome personality conflicts, but you can certainly prevent the team from melting down over project-related disputes. Make it clear that the project isn’t about just one thing, and it can’t be held up over one decision. As the project manager, you represent the executive authority that approved the project. You can put your foot down, if necessary.
Egos are just one of the challenges of getting a group of creative perfectionists to collaborate. When a team member’s ego is bruised, things can get out of hand. But they can get over it. Even Dave and Phil Alvin managed to get together two years ago, to record an answer to the question they each seemed to get from nearly everyone: “What’s Up With Your Brother?”