Conflict Management in Teams

6 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017

See all articles by Kristin Behfar

Kristin Behfar

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Rebecca Goldberg

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

Successful teams have three things in common: (1) they meet their performance goals, (2) their members feel satisfied that they are learning/benefiting from being a part of the team, and (3) the process the team uses to collaborate sets it up for future success. Recent research, however, suggests that only about 25% of teams meet these criteria. The rest of the teams typically experience less-than-ideal processes and a decline in performance and/or satisfaction. This technical note explores what goes wrong with teams, the ways in which conflict can both help and hurt a team, and how a team can harness the benefits and limit the liabilities of conflict.

Excerpt

UVA-OB-1072

Mar. 4, 2015

Conflict Management in Teams

Successful teams have three things in common: (1) they meet their performance goals, (2)their members feel satisfied that they are learning/benefiting from being a part of the team, and (3)the process the team uses to collaborate sets it up for future success. Recent research, however, suggests that in as little as five weeks of working together, only about 25% of teams meet these criteria. The rest of the teams typically experience less-than-ideal processes and a decline in performance and/or satisfaction.

So what goes wrong? Most team members report that conflict among team members gets in the way of effective teamwork, and this conclusion is largely supported by academic research. The effect of conflict on teams is not always straightforward, however. Under the right conditions, for example, conflict can stimulate divergent thinking and lead to improved problem solving. On the other hand, it also tends to increase defensiveness, distract members from effective problem solving, and generate interpersonal animosity. So what determines whether a team can harness the benefits and limit the liabilities of conflict?

More than a decade of research provides a clear answer: how team conflict is managed. Because conflict happens in all teams (even the most effective ones), the presence of conflict has little bearing on whether one team is more successful than another. The factor most important to team success is how teams handle conflict when it does arise—and there are clear and reliable patterns associated with (in)effective conflict management. These patterns center on a critical tradeoff that teams implicitly or explicitly make when deciding how to deal with their conflict: the tradeoff between getting work done and making individual members happy.

. . .

Keywords: conflict, conflict management, teams, working in teams, conflict resolution, conflict-resolution strategies, team management

Suggested Citation

Behfar, Kristin and Goldberg, Rebecca, Conflict Management in Teams. Darden Case No. UVA-OB-1072. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2974840

Kristin Behfar (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

Rebecca Goldberg

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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