Teams scholars have historically conceptualized and measured intragroup conflict at the team level. But emerging evidence suggests that perceptions of intragroup conflict are often not uniform, shared, or static. These findings suggest important questions about the microfoundations of intragroup conflict: Where does conflict within teams originate? And how does it evolve over time? We address these and other questions in three abductive studies. We consider four origination points—an individual, dyad, subgroup, or team—and three evolutionary trajectories—conflict continuity, contagion, and concentration. Study 1, a qualitative study of narrative accounts, and Study 2, a longitudinal social networks study of student teams, reveal that fewer than 30 percent of teams experience team-level conflict. Instead, conflict more commonly originates and persists at individual, dyadic, or subgroup levels. Study 2 further demonstrates that traditional psychometric intragroup conflict scales mask the existence of these various origins and trajectories of conflict. Study 3, a field study of manufacturing teams, reveals that individual and dyadic task conflict origins positively predict team performance, whereas traditional intragroup task conflict measures negatively predict team performance. The results raise serious concerns about current methods and theory in the team conflict literature and suggest that researchers must go beyond team-level conceptualizations of conflict.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This paper benefited greatly from the comments and assistance of our colleagues John Bechara, Rellie Derfler-Rozin, Debra Shapiro, and Hans van Dijk and from assistance in data collection, entry, and coding by Mei Dong, Lemuel Amen, Rebecca Dessens, Rosa Dunn, Courtney Kempiak, Chloe Ortalo-Mange, Ginny Naylor, Lily Qian, and Cori Roberts. We also appreciate comments and suggestions from participants at the INGRoup conference, the Northern Illinois University College of Business Dean’s Research Series, Tilburg University’s Department of Organization Studies, the University of Maryland’s Management & Organizations Department, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Managerial Studies, and the University of Minnesota’s Work and Organization Department. We would also like to thank our associate editor, Caroline Bartel, and three reviewers for providing constructive comments and suggestions to help bring this paper to completion. This research was supported in part by a Carlson School of Management Dean’s Small Research Grant.
- dyadic conflict
- intragroup conflict
- temporal dynamics