Conflict Management in Teams: For Military and Government

6 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2018

See all articles by Kristin Behfar

Kristin Behfar

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Steve Gerras

U.S. Army War College (DMSPO)

Rebecca Goldberg

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

Despite the hierarchical power structures in the military and government, as they reach more senior levels, leaders routinely operate in peer-to-peer teams. These environments require the ability to negotiate complex group dynamics—a skill which often goes undeveloped in typical hierarchies. Groups that succeed over time 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-1208

Feb. 9, 2018

Conflict Management in Teams: For Military and Government

Despite careers characterized by hierarchical power structures and clear decision-making processes, most senior officers will find themselves serving in environments involving peer leadership and complex team dynamics. From councils of colonels, to cross-functional teams, to joint tank sessions, leadership at the strategic level relies on creativity, communication, and connectivity to accomplish the mission. Rarely trained or educated on complex team dynamics, senior officers often find themselves frustrated by pointless, contentious meetings, social loafing by fellow teammates, and an inability to develop the expected synergy to derive creative solutions. What does effective look like? 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, however, is not always straightforward. 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 both effective and ineffective conflict management.

. . .

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

Suggested Citation

Behfar, Kristin and Gerras, Steve and Goldberg, Rebecca, Conflict Management in Teams: For Military and Government. Darden Case No. UVA-OB-1208. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3130385

Kristin Behfar (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

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

Steve Gerras

U.S. Army War College (DMSPO)

122 Forbes Avenue
Carlisle, PA
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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