Perhaps the most considerable philosophical shift in organizational and departmental management over the past two decades is the prevalent adoption and use of team-oriented structures as a method for successful task execution, decision-making, planning and problem-solving.
Indeed, academics and commentators are in agreement that the acceleration and employment of team-based structures as a preferred technique of organization, task accomplishment and decision-making modus operandi reflects the urgency for timelier and efficient processing of information in a business world characterized by intense competition and increased environmental uncertainty (Li et al., 2009).
Despite their effectiveness, however, team-based structures continue to experience a myriad of operational and structural challenges as they become increasingly used within organizational and departmental settings (Carton & Cummings, 2012). This section aims to not only detail the level of task independence acceptable between teams, but also the impact of interteam conflict on departmental performance.
In a meta-analytic review of the role of context in work team diversity, Joshi & Roh (2009) report that some studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between task independence within the team context and increased team performance, while others have illuminated a positive correlation between task independence and decreased team performance. These authors define team performance “…as the extent to which a team accomplishes its goal or mission” (pp. 600-601).
Team task independence is defined by Li et al (2009) as “…the degree to which the team is allowed or expected to do its own work and to manage the work of the team” (P. 1374). These authors note that the acceptable level of team task independence should always demonstrate a sustainable sense of responsibility, increased work motivation, empowered team task meaningfulness, and enhanced job satisfaction.
Consequently, it can be argued that an unacceptable level of task independence is implied when such independence negatively affects the mentioned pillars, leading to worthless, irrelevant interactions, as well as low intrinsic motivation and innovation levels among members (Carton & Cummings, 2012).
An acceptable level of task independence, according to extant literature, should be embedded in the team’s capacity not only to empower its members with the necessary skills, expertise and competence to get the task done, but also in its capability to encourage self-management among members with the view to promote organizational/departmental effectiveness and individual psychological well-being (Jones & Jones, 2011; Carton & Cummings, 2012).
Due to the nature and complexity of work carried out by the Naval Audit Services (NAS), for example, task independence between and among audit teams is always encouraged not only to enhance team effectiveness and psychological wellbeing of individual auditors, but also provide them with an effective platform to generate new ideas and techniques, and to demonstrate a high level of objectivity, analytical ability, autonomy, innovativeness, performance and integrity. These variables, in my view, can only be suppressed in teams where task independence is non-existent.
Moving on to the impact of interteam conflict on departmental performance, it is suggested that conflict, which is both task-oriented and relationship-centered, is inevitable in teams and leads to both positive and negative outcomes on organizational and/or departmental performance (Cheng et al., 2011).
Among the positive aspects of interteam conflict, available literature demonstrates that task-oriented conflict can occasion members of different teams working on the same task “…to consider the task thoroughly and think over the task-related information more carefully, a process that facilitates decision making” (Cheng et al., 2011, p. 190). This implies that interteam task-oriented conflict, if well managed, has the capacity to facilitate effective decision-making.
It has also been noted in the literature that interteam relationship-centered conflict improves the performance of teams within the department. Breugst et al (2012) postulate that “…team members who perceive higher relationship conflict are likely to experience higher levels of negative affect, thereby increasing the accuracy of their team performance assessments” (p. 2012).
This view is reinforced by Cheng et al (2011), who suggest that task-oriented conflict within interteam settings facilitate performance by triggering deep thinking and analysis, as well as detailed consideration of information.
Drawing upon the above premises, it can be argued that the adoption of the Military Healthcare System, for example, received enviable performance-related outcomes because its implementation was done by a multiplicity of teams who constantly experienced both task-oriented and relationship-centered conflict in their quest to install the system.
This multifaceted inter-team conflict processes resulted in effective decision-making on which management software to use for the Military Healthcare System, not mentioning that they enhanced the accuracy of the teams’ performance assessments.
Among the negative impacts of interteam conflict on departmental performance, Cheng et al (2011) acknowledge that task-oriented interteam conflict has often been associated to poorer implementation of decisions at the departmental or organizational level. On the other hand, as noted by the authors, relationship-centered interteam conflict has been found to not only diminish the satisfaction and commitment of team members to the different teams, but also hinders decision quality as well as organizational success.
Drawing upon these conceptualizations, it can be arguably digested that low satisfaction and commitment levels among interteam members is positively correlated with undesirable organizational and/or departmental performance (Cheng et al., 2011). Equally, low decision quality arising from relationship conflict among interteam members is positively correlated with poor organizational/departmental outcomes.
Another point worth mentioning is that relationship-centered conflict among interteam members is likely to reduce self-enhancement tendencies among members, thereby contributing to a further slump in departmental performance. Self-enhancement tendencies are likely to go down as members of the teams start to develop a more negative perception of the teams due to relationship-centered conflict, leading to a considerably reduced inter-group favoritism (Cheng et al., 2011).
This view is supported by Breugst el al (2012), who suggest that “…perceptions of higher relationship conflict will likely decrease an individual’s identification with the team, thus will increase the psychological distance between the individual and the team” (p. 190). These undesirable effects, in my view, negatively affect the performance, productivity, and competitiveness of the department.
To conclude, this section has demonstrated that an acceptable level of task independence should be embedded in the team through the adoption of various strategies, including empowering members and encouraging self-management with the view to enhance organizational/departmental effectiveness and individual wellbeing. It has also been demonstrated that interteam conflict bears both positive and negative departmental outcomes in terms of performance and productivity.
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