Management Team Conflict
Ayşe Karaca, Amanuel Tekleab
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0134


Team conflict has been one of the most frequently studied team phenomena in organizational behavior research. Generally, team conflict refers to the degree of disagreement among the team members. Research in team conflict has identified three main types of conflict—task conflict, which refers to the disagreement on issues related to the task at hand; relationship or emotional conflict, which refers to disagreement among team members due to interpersonal incompatibility or dissimilarity; and process conflict, which refers to disagreement on the process to accomplish the task at hand. Some researchers also have added status conflict, which refers to disagreements due to relative status of the members in the team’s social hierarchy. Team conflict research shows that a number of factors, including individual or team characteristics, cause teams to have a higher level of conflict, which in turn, affects many individual, team, and organizational outcomes. Generally, there is strong agreement among researchers that relationship conflict results in undesirable outcomes, while the effect of task conflict and process conflict are mixed. Despite the correlational based meta-analyses showing negative relationship between task conflict and outcomes, studies that looked at it in conjunction with relationship conflict show a positive relationship with some outcomes (e.g., creativity and general performance). The newly emerging conflict type, status conflict, is negatively related to team performance. Despite the main effects/relationships in many studies, other studies have shown that the effects of individual and/or team characteristics on team conflict and those of conflicts on individual and/or team outcomes could be attenuated or enhanced by other individual, team, or organizational contexts. Operationally, although the aggregate level of individuals’ perceptions of the level of conflict has been predominantly used in team research, recent developments have shown that there is a need to consider other operationalizations of conflict (i.e., conflict asymmetry; conflict skewness). In a similar line, past research heavily relied on self-report instruments in measuring conflict as it is generally operationalized as a perceived team phenomenon. Recent studies, however, have begun to emphasize the importance of using alternative tools (e.g., qualitative measures) for assessing conflict.

General Overviews

A number of excellent research on teams have been published. Jehn 1995 is one of the first studies that systematically studied the types of conflicts. Amason 1996 further differentiates between functional and dysfunctional conflicts at the macro level. Jehn 1997 expands conflict types by including process conflict. De Dreu and Weingart 2003 meta-analytically examines correlates of task and relationship conflicts. De Wit, et al. 2012 re-examines correlates of conflict types using a larger number of studies. DeChurch, et al. 2013 separates emergent conflict states from team conflict processes. O’Neill, et al. 2013 re-examines the pros and cons of three types of conflict.

  • Amason, Allen C. “Distinguishing the Effects of Functional and Dysfunctional Conflict on Strategic Decision Making: Resolving a Paradox for Top Management Teams.” Academy of Management Journal 39.1 (1996): 123–148.

    DOI: 10.2307/256633

    One of the earliest studies distinguishing functional conflict from dysfunctional conflict. Collecting data from top management teams in two industries, the author finds cognitive conflict to be beneficial and affective conflict to be detrimental for strategic decision-making.

  • DeChurch, Leslie A., Jessica R. Mesmer-Magnus, and Dan Doty. “Moving beyond Relationship and Task Conflict: Toward a Process-State Perspective.” Journal of Applied Psychology 98.4 (2013): 559–578.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0032896

    This is a unique meta-analysis in that it examines the relative importance of emergent conflict states (members’ perceptions of conflict) versus team conflict processes (members’ interactions about conflict) on team performance and affective outcomes. The findings indicate that after controlling for conflict states, conflict processes account for an additional 13 percent variance on team performance.

  • De Dreu, Carsten K. W., and Laurie R. Weingart. “Task versus Relationship Conflict, Team Performance, and Team Member Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Applied Psychology 88.4 (2003): 741–749.

    DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.88.4.741

    This is the first meta-analytic review of the effects of conflict on team outcomes. The findings of this study contradict with the common assumption that the effects of conflict on team functioning change depending on its type (task versus relationship conflict) and that conflict has detrimental effects on both team performance and team satisfaction regardless of the type of conflict.

  • De Wit, Frank R. C., Lindred L. Greer, and Karen A. Jehn. “The Paradox of Intragroup Conflict: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Applied Psychology 97.2 (2012): 360–390.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0024844

    Based on 116 studies, this meta-analytic review also finds a negative relationship between conflict and team outcomes. However, contrary to the results of the previous meta-analysis by De Dreu and Weingart 2003, this work reveals that the negative effect of task conflict on team effectiveness is weaker than that of relationship conflict.

  • Jehn, Karen A. “A Multimethod Examination of Benefits and Detriments of Intragroup Conflict.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40.2 (1995): 256–282.

    DOI: 10.2307/2393638

    A well-cited, influential seminal work that proposes that conflict in teams has two distinct dimensions, task versus relationship, and these dimensions differently relate to team outcomes. This study suggests that the effects of conflict in groups differ depending on the type of conflict and group processes. It also introduces a well-known instrument used to measure team conflict.

  • Jehn, Karen A. “A Qualitative Analysis of Conflict Types and Dimensions in Organizational Groups.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42.3 (1997): 530–557.

    DOI: 10.2307/2393737

    This qualitative study is credited for introducing process conflict, a third type of conflict, to the literature. It reveals that there are three distinct types of team conflict––task, relationship, and process conflicts––and that each conflict type has four dimensions, namely, negative emotionality, importance, acceptability, and resolution potential.

  • O’Neill, Thomas A., Natalie J. Allen, and Stephanie E. Hastings. “Examining the “Pros” and “Cons” of Team Conflict: A Team-Level Meta-Analysis of Task, Relationship, and Process Conflict.” Human Performance 26.3 (2013): 236–260.

    DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2013.795573

    Based on eighty-nine studies, the authors conduct a meta-analysis on the relations that were not examined by previous meta-analyses. The novelty of this meta-analysis is its examination of the moderators of conflict-team performance relationship, the association between each type of conflict and innovation, and the effect of conflict on team potency and team cooperative and competitive behaviors.

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