Bradley, B. H., Klotz, A. C., Postlethwaite, B. E., & Brown, K. G. (2013). Ready to rumble: How team personality composition and task conflict interact to improve performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 385.
Every Team has Conflict
As groups and teams have become a vital part of almost every business, we are understanding more clearly the benefits and challenges of individual contributors coming together to reach a goal or complete a task. This application of systems thinking is striving to prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, a team has more potential impact than the value of all the constituent individual contributors combined.
However, all is not perfect when these contributors form a team. Disagreements and challenges are going to happen and task conflict will occur. Task conflict refers to the differences in opinions, viewpoints, or decisions of group members who are collectively working to complete a task.
Rather than focusing on eliminating the task conflict within a team, it is possible to focus on using conflict to increase team success.
How to Leverage Conflict into Successful Performance
Since we know that task conflict is inevitable on any team, we can work to leverage conflict into successful performance. Many researchers have examined different team variables to improve team success. Scientists have studied characteristics of the conflict, task, and team to better understand teams, conflict, and performance.
One group of researchers, lead by Bradley and Klotz, studied how team members’ personality traits affected task conflict and team performance. Their findings laid the groundwork for business leaders to unlock the full potential of work teams.
Bradley & Klotz Summary
In 2013, Bradley, Klotz, Postlethwaite and Brown published their findings on how team members’ personality traits affected task conflict and team performance. These researchers examined how the Big Five characteristics of personality play a contingency role in the relationship between task conflict and team performance. They focused their research on two of these characteristics; (1) openness to experience, and (2) emotional stability.
Openness to Experience
Openness to experience is hypothesized to play a part because open team members (characterized by the tendency to be open-minded, imaginative, and curious) are more likely to use successful conflict resolution strategies such as collaboration and compromise. Open members are typically flexible as well which allows for teams to avoid deadlocks where nothing is accomplished. Finally, open members help facilitate discussion during conflict which allows the team to utilize all members’ experience and knowledge. For these reasons, the researchers hypothesized that when team openness is high, task conflict will positively impact team performance. However, when team openness is low, task conflict will negatively impact team performance.
Similarly, emotional stability is hypothesized to play a part in the relationship between task conflict and team performance for three reasons.
- Emotionally stable team members tend to use successful conflict resolution strategies that allow the team to reach successful outcomes.
- Emotionally stable people are also less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and hostility. These attributes can lead to improper handling of conflict and lessen performance.
- Lastly, emotionally stable members tend to have a positive view of others and themselves. This makes it more likely that they won’t confuse task conflict for personal conflict.
The researchers hypothesized that when team emotional stability is high, task conflict and team performance will be positively related. They conversely hypothesized that when team emotional stability is low, task conflict and team performance will be negatively related.
The researchers found both hypotheses to be correct. As team averages of openness to experience and emotional stability increased, the teams were more likely to leverage task conflict for positive team performance.
These findings provide any business leader or manager the information to leverage task conflict into team performance. You can capitalize on conflict and maximize performance on any team. Here are 4 practical ways to utilize this research in your business.
- Hire people for positions that work exclusively or predominately on teams that are higher in trait openness and emotional stability. Hiring people that are open (open-minded, imaginative, and curious) and stable (composed, steady, and self-assured) can lead to leveraging task conflict to improve team performance.
- Regularly evaluate team composition within your business. Ensure that teams have a proper mix of people with adequate levels of openness and emotional stability.
- Prioritize these traits on teams who perform non-routine tasks as these tasks have a higher likelihood of creating task conflict. A team who will have more task conflict will see greater benefit from a higher team average in these traits.
- When looking to improve a struggling team, consider replacing a team member with low levels of openness or emotional stability with a new team member that has higher levels of openness or emotional stability. This simple corrective action could have profound effects by raising the team level of openness and emotional stability.
- Consider assessing your team personality and giving individual and team composite feedback. Identify if there are any potential performance issues or conflict the team might experience given their levels of openness and emotional stability.
In conclusion, team members are going to experience task conflict. It is a part of individuals with different opinions coming together to achieve a common goal. Instead of attempting to eliminate conflict from teams, learn to leverage the team personality composition for better performance. The researchers here studied how team personality characteristics impact the relationship between task conflict and team performance. They found with high team levels of openness to experience and emotional stability are positively related to task conflict and team performance. With this information, business leaders and managers can capitalize on the occurring conflict and maximize performance on any team.
Authors: Jonathon Holsberry & Brandon Jordan