Fighting for Your Team

By: Yendi Neil

Teams in organizations often provide more advantages than individuals working independently when overcoming a new challenge, but their success relies on the coordination and interpersonal relations of the team. A universal negative influence on teamwork is relationship conflict (i.e., interpersonal tensions based not on disagreements about the task, but personal animosity). Thiel and colleagues (2017) conducted two to examine how the timing of relationship conflict in teams affects team dynamics. In study 1, entrepreneurial student teams ran a business during the semester. There were 35 undergraduate student project teams at two large U.S. universities. In study 2, 128 students at a western U.S. university were placed in 36 teams to work on a computerized decision-making simulation in a laboratory setting. For relationship conflict manipulation, researchers allowed participants to provide feedback about their team members but in return were given scripted, fake feedback to make it seem as if their team was high in relationship conflict or not.

Overall, Thiel and colleagues (2017) determined that teams with high levels of initial relationship conflict have worse interpersonal processes and team coordination. This can be overcome, however, through cognitive reappraisal (i.e., thinking about conflict differently). Thiel and colleagues (2017) suggested that through a temporal lens, teams can overcome relationship conflict via cognitive reappraisal and have the potential to surpass teams that do not initially have relationship conflict. Likewise, the studies suggest that adversity and challenges early in the teamwork process can be beneficial long-term as these teams address problems and practice the use of reappraisal techniques. With relationship conflict, the why is important to identify because it allows teams to overcome perceptions of threat and reengage in critical team processes. Overcoming relationship conflicts and threats within a team is a long-term process as it falls on the individuals’ efforts to understand others’ perspectives.

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