Conflicts in Teams: Review of an Exemplary Study

Seminar Paper, 2000

27 Pages



1. Introduction to Conflict

2. Review of “A Multimethod Examination of the Benefits and Detriments of Intragroup Conflict” by Karen A. JEHN
2.1. Present Findings & Definitions
2.2. Design of the Study
2.2.1. Hypotheses & Theoretical Background
2.2.2. Methods
2.3. Results
2.4. Discussion & Conclusion

3. Links and Relations to `Center of Excellence´


“The point is not how to eliminate or prevent conflict but rather how to make it productive.” Morton Deutsch

1 Introduction to Conflict

Conflict is found in all realms of social interaction and is therefore an important topic for all kinds of social scientists. Thus, there are various definitions of conflict. As Deutsch (1973) simply puts it: “A conflict exists, whenever incompatible activities occur.”[1] Pruitt (1998) distinguishes two categories[2]:

a) definitions referring to conflict behavior – opposing actions taken by two (or more) parties (close to Deutsch´s view)
b) definitions referring to sources of conflict behavior – most commonly divergence of interest and annoyance that is attributed to another party

As can be seen from these quite broad definitions, conflict is a term that can be applied to numerous situations in daily life. A couple trying to figure out where to vacation (if for example he wants to spend the holidays in a cabin in the mountains and she prefers staying in a luxury hotel at the Cote d´Azur) as well as the arms race between the Soviet Union and the US during Cold War can be considered a `conflict´.

Whereas the common notion of conflict is rather negative (as a serious, stressful and destructive problem between two parties), most scientists rather see them as “potentially of personal and social value”[3] i.e. as rather beneficial and constructive.

“Conflict has many positive effects. […] It stimulates interest and curiosity, it is the medium through which problems can be aired and solutions arrived at, it is the root of personal and social change. Conflict is often part of the process of testing and assessing oneself and, as such, may be highly enjoyable as one experiences the pleasure of the full and active use of one´s capabilities.”[4]

Particularly for groups, conflicts can have beneficial effects. Within groups, they can help to establish norms and procedures or renew existing ones. Thus, conflicts can be seen as a means of developing groups towards greater cohesion and efficiency. This notion is especially interesting for social and/or organizational psychologists that have to deal with processes within groups in an organizational setting.

It will be the main focus of this paper to present a scientific study of conflicts in work groups and their (positive and negative) effects. After that, I will try to relate the findings of this study to the major topic of the seminar, the `Center of Excellence´ model by Dieter Frey.

2 Review of “A Multimethod Examination of the Benefits and Detriments of Intragroup Conflict” by Karen A JEHN

The intention of this section of the paper is to present an outline of the study mentioned above which was published in issue #40 of “Administrative Science Quarterly” (1995)[5]. The purpose of this study is to examine “the structure of 105 work groups and management teams to address the question of wether conflict can be beneficial.”[6]

What I considered to be especially interesting is the fact that Jehn not only used quantitative but also qualitative methods to assess the effects of conflicts in work groups.

2.1 Present Findings & Definitions

State-of-the-Art: Present Findings

In the first section, Jehn analyzes the present findings concerning conflicts and their potential benefits for the parties involved. Whereas in former times scientists regarded conflict as harmful and detrimental to organizational functioning and group effectiveness, many recent studies arrived at different conclusions. Under certain circumstances, conflict appears to be rather beneficial. Among the qualities shown to be enhanced by intragroup conflicts are decision quality, strategic planning, financial performance and organizational growth.[7] Though, all these studies had only focused on single issues. A comprehensive, integrative theory of benefits and detriments did not exist. One first step towards this is attempted by Jehn´s study.


In the following section of her article, Jehn defines the most important terms and variables.

(organizational) groups:

- have more than two members
- are intact social systems with boundaries so that members recognize themselves as a group and are recognized by others as a group
- have one or more tasks that are measurable
- operate within an organization

group performance:

is defined as “degree to which the product or service of the group meets the standards of the organization (as rated by the groups superior and by productivity records)”[8]

individual performance:

degree to which one member of the group meets these standards

affective reaction of the group:

( later also termed as `reactions of individuals´)

“refers to members´ satisfaction with the group experience and the degree to which each member would like to continue working in his/her group”[9]


perceptions by the parties involved that they hold discrepant views or have interpersonal incompatibilities (sensu Boulding, 1963 cited by Jehn, 1995)

Furthermore, a distinction is made between

- relationship conflict (emotional conflict resulting from interpersonal incompatibilities)
- task conflict (disagreement about the content of tasks; differences in viewpoints, ideas and opinions)

2.2 Design of the Study

2.2.1 Hypotheses & Theoretical Background

Hypothesis 1:

The more relationship conflict group members perceive, the lower their satisfaction, their liking of other group members and their intent to remain in the group.

Relationship conflicts have great influence on group processes and group climate. Jehn predicts, that tension and annoyance triggered by this kind of conflict (i.e. conflict about personal issues with various emotions involved) creates a rather uncomfortable atmosphere within an organizational group. Disagreement with and disliking of other group members is expected to result in frustration and distress. Thus, the members´ feelings of pleasedness with being part of this group will be severely affected.

Hypothesis 2a

Perceived relationship conflict in groups will be negatively associated with individual performance.

Hypothesis 2b

Perceived relationship conflict in groups will be negatively associated with group performance.

There are several reasons supporting these assumptions:

First, as Staw, Sandelands and Dutton (1981) and Roseman, Wiest and Swartz (1994)[10] showed, relationship conflicts tend to inhibit certain cognitive functions resulting in suboptimal information processing. Therefore, the functioning of the group as work unit is disturbed.

Second, relationship conflicts block the members´ ressources, because they are preoccupied with resolving (or ignoring) the conflict. Thus, they cannot dedicate their full time and energy to their original tasks.

Furthermore, group communication is severely impaired by interpersonal conflicts, decreasing group efficiency.


[1] p.10

[2] p.470

[3] Deutsch (1973), p.8

[4] Deutsch (1973), p.9

[5] p. 256-282

[6] Jehn (1995), p. 256

[7] Jehn (1995), p.256

[8] Jehn (1995), p.257

[9] Jehn (1995), p.257
This set of reactions is later completed by `liking of other group members´.

[10] both cited by Jehn (1995)

Excerpt out of 27 pages


Conflicts in Teams: Review of an Exemplary Study
LMU Munich  (Psychology)
Seminar Organizational Culture and Top Performance. How to Create a Center of Excellence
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ISBN (eBook)
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Conflicts, Teams, Review, Exemplary, Study, Seminar, Organizational, Culture, Performance, Create, Center, Excellence
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Thomas Glöckner (Author), 2000, Conflicts in Teams: Review of an Exemplary Study, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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