For individuals, working within and across teams is an ever-present part of organizational life. Conflict between teams, however, is often a common companion as differences in goals, needs, values and priorities emerge. One such example is when brand managers demand rapid time to market while manufacturing tries to control costs. Research has generally shown that an integrative or collaborative win-win conflict management strategy is the most effective in bridging these intergroup differences and producing the best outcomes for the organization. If a collaborative strategy is best, what motivates employees to expend the additional effort and time to work together for win-win outcomes?
To explore the question of motivation and conflict style preference, a recent study analyzed the interplay of an individual’s commitment to the team, commitment to the organization, and his or her preferred conflict management strategy. Commitment here is affective; it is the force that pulls individuals to take action favorable to the group and in line with the group’s values and goals. The researchers’ findings indicate that a dual commitment – that is commitment to both their team and to their organization – resulted in a preference to use a collaborative conflict management approach.
Past research is conflicting in the advice it offers practitioners, suggesting that focusing on the superordinate goals of the organization regardless of the level of commitment to the team is best, while others suggest focusing on the organization will induce team members to use a dominating style. This new study suggests that it isn’t either-or. To motivate individuals to work collaboratively with another team, both high commitment to their own team and high commitment to the organization are needed. Building individuals’ identification both with their team and with the organization are important precursors of dual commitment, which provides the motivation to act collaboratively and produces outcomes good for the team and the organization.
Tjosvold, D., Wong, S.H., & Feng Chen, N.Y. (2014). Constructively managing conflicts in organizations. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior. Vol. 1:545-568. https://doi-org.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091306
Wombacher, J. & Felfe, J. (2017). The interplay of team and organizational commitment in motivating employees’ interteam conflict handling. Academy of Management Journal, 60(4), 1554-1581. Doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0718
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