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One of the foremost obstacles on the way of ensuring the proper functioning of a work-team has been traditionally considered the fact that the notions of ‘team’ and ‘conflict’ are practically inseparable – at least, for as long as the opinions of the general public are concerned. Hence, the rationale for writing this paper – it aims to gather some discursive insights into what both notions stand for, and into what can be deemed the qualitative essence of the interrelationship between them.
The ‘Background’ part of the paper establishes the actual rationale behind the idea that the chosen topic (Teams and conflict) represents the thoroughly legitimate subject of empirical inquiry. The sub-chapters main claim is that it is specifically the managerial demand to guarantee the synergistic integrity of work-teams, as the basic prerequisite for their effectiveness, which calls for more research to be conducted on the topic.
The ‘Learnings’ sub-chapter outlines some of the obtained findings, on how different authors conceptualize the triggering-factors behind the outbreak of intra-team conflicts and elaborates on the qualitative aspects of team-formation. The concerning part of the paper describes some of the most widely used conflict-management techniques and endorses the idea that the successful approaches to addressing intra-team conflicts must be highly systemic.
The ‘Summary and Implementation’ part of the paper provides the condensed overview of the outlined learnings and specifies what may be deemed the practical implications of the conducted research.
Nowadays, it represents a well-established fact that for managers to be considered professionally adequate, they must be aware of account for the effects of conflict on the functional integrity of a team. They must also be able to understand what amount to the issue’s practical implications. The reason for this is quite apparent – there are many objective motives to believe that, as time goes on, it is namely one’s ability to resolve conflicts in teams, which will be deemed increasingly reflective of his or her value, as a manager.
This simply could not otherwise – the very realities of a post-industrial living presuppose that there is a positive relationship between the varying measure of a particular organization’s affiliation with the concept of ‘teamwork’, on one hand, and its ability to remain competitive, on the other. After all, it has now been well established that when working as a team, employees can generate more ‘surplus value’, as compared to what it would have been the case had they continued to address their professional responsibilities autonomously.
The explanation of this seeming phenomenon has to do with the fact that, within the team-framework, the performance of each worker begins to represent a clearly defined synergistic value, which in turn increases the quality and quantity of whatever happened to be the organization’s output. Therefore, it constitutes a matter of crucial importance for managers to be able to ensure that within a team, each member functions in the highly systemic mode, thoroughly interconnected with that of his or her teammates. This, in turn, presupposes that there is a direct link between the extent of operational specialization, on the part of each team member, and the measure of the team’s overall effectiveness.
There are, however, many objective preconditions for the quality of teamwork to suffer from the constantly occurring conflicts within a team, as well as from those that take place between different teams within the same organization. After all, just about any team can be discussed in terms of an open thermodynamic system, which in turn presupposes the constant shift of energetic potentials within it, and consequently – the inevitability of conflicts.
As Desivilya and Eizen (2005) noted, “Conflict is highly prevalent in the organizational arena as well as a significant element in the dynamics of organizational teams (p. 184). It is understood, of course, that what has been mentioned earlier suggests that there is indeed much rationale for team-leaders to think of acquiring skills in conflict-management, as such that represents one of their professional priorities. The reason for this is that the continuation of conflict within a team (between teams) has been traditionally perceived as highly detrimental to the affiliated organization’s corporate agenda.
There is, however, even more to it – as practice indicates, the prolongation of intra-team conflicts within a corporate body is also capable of providing the latter with a new competitive edge. Thus, it will only be logical to refer to the issue at stake as being phenomenological to an extent because the conflict in teams appears equally capable of triggering both: the negative and positive organizational effects. Therefore, it is fully explainable why, as time goes on, more and more studies are being conducted on the subject of what accounts for the deep-seated causes of intra-team conflicts, and on what should be deemed the best strategy for dealing with them. Our paper aims to contribute, in this respect.
The discursively relevant literature contains several insights into the nature of the discussed type of conflicts. According to Amason et al. (1995), intra-team conflicts can be classified as such that fall into the categories of C-type an A-type. C-type (cognitive) conflict takes place when the team-members grow increasingly disagreeable while trying to contribute to solving a particular organizational problem. This, however, often turns out an asset: “C-type conflict encourages innovative thinking and promotes creative solutions to problems that otherwise might seem insurmountable” (p. 23). There are also A-Type (affective) intra-team conflicts, usually concerned with some people’s inability to exercise full control over their emotions while at the workplace – something that has a strongly negative effect on the quality of these individuals’ professional performance.
McShane and Von Glinow (2003) provide us with more complex of a methodological framework for defining the types of conflicts that are intrinsic to the functioning of teams. According to the authors, most team-conflicts can be categorized resulting from:
- Goal incompatibility – a few individuals within a team strive to reach essentially the same objective (such as to become promoted), which can only be accomplished at the expense of preventing others from being able to do the same.
- Differentiation – team-members happened to possess discursively incompatible worldviews, reflective of these people’s divergent ethnocultural and social backgrounds.
- Task interdependence – teams are pressed hard to “share common inputs… or receive outcomes that are partly determined by the mutual performance of both parties” (p. 53). Scarce resources – teams are forced to compete for the same performance-enhancing resources.
- Communication problems – teammates exhibit the lack of communication skills, which in turn undermines the integrity of informational transactions within a team.
- Ambiguity – teams/team-members are provided with too much liberty when it comes to defining the direction of the would-be applied collective effort. This alone implies that, within the context of a manager trying to find an effective solution to the intra-team conflict, he or she must pay close attention to what happened to be the conflict’s circumstantial subtleties.
The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated even further, regarding the fact that, as practice indicates, the methodological architecture of every work-team does exert a powerful influence on the qualitative aspects of the periodically occurring conflicts between team members. Therefore, there is indeed much sense in categorizing teams alongside what appear to be the specifics of their operating philosophy:
- ‘Collective’ – these teams are characterized by the strong sense of belonging, experienced by each of the affiliated members and by the teammates’ willingness to observe the provisions of corporate culture while facing professional challenges.
- ‘Cliqued’ – such teams rely on the informal methods of intra-stratification, with the associated team-members being encouraged to participate in the executive decision-making.
- ‘Fragmented’ – the foremost qualitative trait of such teams is that the concerned members tend to profess the values of individualism, which reduces the overall synergistic potential of the would-be applied collective efforts, on these people’s parts.
- ‘Mercenary’ – the term applies to the extremely goal-oriented teams, the members of which tend to perceive the requirement to cooperate in terms of an ‘unavoidable evil’ (Anand & Jones, 2003).
As the mentioned categorization supposes, the methods for settling conflicts in each type of team would have to be thoroughly sound, in the discursive sense of this word.
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Therefore, it is fully explainable why there is no universally applicable methodology for addressing intra-team conflicts – the issue is much too complex/dynamic. However, the available literature of relevance provides us with many clues, as to what accounts for the theoretical differences in how managers go about tackling this type of conflict. According to Aritzeta, Ayestaran and Swailes (2005), the currently deployed conflict-management approaches (concerning intra-team conflicts), fall into the following categories:
- Collaboration – the conflicting parties are encouraged to cooperate while trying to put an end to the incapacitating disagreement between them. This particular approach is most suitable for managing conflicts in teams that adhere to the values of corporate solidarity. b).
- Avoidance – the objective prerequisites are created for the conflict-agents within a team not to indulge in any open confrontation with each other.
- Accommodation – the conflict’s participants are provided with a rationale to “show a high concern for others and attitudes to accommodate and accept their wishes” (p. 163).
- Competition – the conflicting parties are prompted to do just about anything that they believe may help them to win an upper hand over each other while competing for the same resource.
The approach presupposes the applicability of the specifically ‘natural’ solutions to ending conflicts within a work-team.
Thus, there can be only a few doubts that there is indeed much complexity to the task of finding the best strategy to address intra-team conflicts. At the same time, however, this task appears thoroughly manageable. The main key, in this respect, is one’s ability to recognize the systemic qualities of the manner, in which a particular team strives to live up to the purpose of its initial assemblage.
Moreover, the above-stated suggests that there can be no spatially stable (dogmatic) approaches to reducing the severity of intra-team conflicts, by definition – all due to the continually transforming nature of conflicting situations in work-teams. As a result, we can safely assume that there is a positive correlation between one’s worth as a conflict-solver, on one hand, and the measure of his or her intellectual flexibility, on the other.
Summary and implementation
The obtained insights into the discussed subject matter can be summarized as follows:
- Conflict is inherent to the functioning of teams.
- Within a team, the occurrence of conflicts can play both: the performance-facilitating and performance-impeding roles.
- Intra-team conflicts vary greatly, regarding what can be considered their origins.
- To be able to come up with the appropriate strategy for addressing a particular conflict, team-leaders must be capable of defining the team’s functional philosophy and identifying its effects on the would-be implemented solution.
Three discursive implications emerge out of the conducted research. First, managers must strive to make sure that the would-be adopted strategy for tackling a particular intra-team conflict is consistent with what can be identified as the systemic characteristics of the affected team. Second, it is namely the inadequacy of informational transactions within a team, which contributes towards making it prone to conflict more than anything else does. Therefore, it is critically important for managers to be able to provide teammates with the proper set of communication-facilitating incentives. Third, team-leaders must be capable of choosing in favor of the circumstantially sound leadership-models, as the mean of remaining in full control of the fluctuating dynamics within a team. This, in turn, will empower team-leaders rather substantially, within the context of how they address their conflict-managing agenda.
Amason, A., Thompson, K., Hochwarter, W., & Harrison, A. (1995). Conflict: An important dimension in successful management teams. Organizational Dynamics, 24(2), 20-35. Web.
Anand, N., & Jones, B. (2003). Organization design: A network view. In R. Peterson & E. Mannix (Eds.), Leading and managing people in the dynamic organization (pp. 227-250). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Web.
Aritzeta, A., Ayestaran, S., & Swailes, S. (2005). Team role preference and conflict management styles. International Journal of Conflict Management, 16(2), 157-182. Web.
Desivilya, H., & Eizen, D. (2005). Conflict management in work teams: The role of social self-efficacy and group identification. International Journal of Conflict Management, 16(2), 183-208. Web.
McShane, S., & Von Glinow, M. (2003). Organizational behavior: Emerging realities for the workplace revolution. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Web.