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The Definition and Types of Team Conflict

Mary Lewinson
September 15, 2010
9,790 views

What team conflict means and how to classify it

team conflicts - how to solveHaving the right understanding the definition of team conflict and being able to classify all conflicts between employees into types will allow team leaders and managers to look into the actual reasons of group conflicts and find solutions that help resolve interpersonal problems. Although conflicts are inevitable, decision makers should strive to reduce the likelihood of conflict occurrence. They must mitigate the negative impact of group conflicts and try to increase the positive impact of those conflicts. This article describes the definition of team conflict and also lists types of team conflict.

Definition

Team Conflict is an interpersonal problem that occurs between two or more members of a team, and affects results of teamwork, so the team does not perform at optimum levels. Team conflicts are caused by the situation when the balance between perceptions, goals, or/and values of the team is upset, therefore people can no more work together and no shared goals can be achieved in the team environment.

Classification

Classification of employee conflicts is the foundation of effective team conflict management, because by having identified a type of conflicts, team leaders are able to choose right conflict resolving tools and apply appropriate conflict management strategies. In this context, let’s try to classify disagreements between team members.

By functional attribute

First of all, conflicts between team members can be functional and dysfunctional.

  • Functional conflicts are disagreements that do not significantly affect team performance, so the team remains functional and is able to produce desired results.
  • Dysfunctional conflicts are those disagreements between employees that disrupt teamwork and prevent team members from following shared goals, so the entire team becomes dysfunctional and no desired results can be produced.

The listed types of team conflict are defined considering the functional attribute of teams.

By Origin of Conflict

Another way to classify employee conflicts refers to focusing on the origin of conflicts, or investigating how a conflict has evolved. Following this idea, the next sources of group conflicts are to be considered:

  • Values of team members. Each team member has its own values yet he/she should follow values of the team. When a disagreement between the values appears, a conflict may arise.
  • Goals versus Expectations. Often improperly set goals do not relate to actual expectations, then a group conflict may take place.
  • Roles and responsibilities. If right people are not assigned to right responsibilities and roles, an employee conflict is likely to arise.
  • Lack of resources. Every team has to work using limited resources – this situation increases the risk of group conflict occurrence.

These team conflict types let team leaders use their conflict resolution skills (like Intervention and Feedback) to look at the original reasons of a group conflict.

By Behavior

Besides this way of investigating team conflicts, there is another way to classify conflicts into the following types:

  • Constructive team conflicts. Such conflicts arise when team members grow personally and increase their qualification. Constructive team conflicts result in a solution to a problem and create cohesiveness between team members.
  • Destructive team conflicts. They arise when the team problem solving process fails so no solution is generated and the problem still exists. Destructive conflicts between team members defocus group effort and divert energy away from prioritized activities. Such conflicts demoralize the team and make it polarized.

By understanding all the listed conflict types as well as the given definition, team leaders can achieve better conflict management because they will be able to investigate the nature of team conflicts and generate right resolution.

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