Impact of conflicts on team creativity in Indian software companies: gains & detriments.

AuthorRaju, G. Prageetha


Creativity in organizations manifests itself as competitive advantage in terms of innovative strategies, novel approaches to markets and product development, differentiation, improving internal processes and identifying efficiency and productivity gains. Though creativity comes from team efforts in the organizational setting (West & Farr, 1990), creativity research mostly focused on individuals (Shalley, Zhou & Oldham, 2004; Mumford, 2003). Of late, research on the subject has turned its focus on team creativity (Gilson & Shalley, 2004; Taggar, 2002). Two studies by Shalley et al (2004) and Mumford (2003) have answered many questions, one of them being how intra-team conflict affects team creativity.

The use of work teams is becoming more and more prominent in organizations today. The performance of software development teams is an important topic in the information systems (IS) domain. But the success rate of projects is much lower than expected; the figures say that almost 18% projects fail whereas about 53% are difficult to accomplish (Liang, Lin, Lin & Liu, 2007). Teams are formed of individuals; they go through a process of interaction to do the work. During this interaction conflicts may arise due to: (a) antecedent conditions, (b) cognition and personalization of conflict, leading to (c) behavior manifestation and then to (d) some aftermath of conflict (Applebaum, 1999).

Conflict refers to a process of social interaction involving a struggle over claims to resources, power and status, beliefs, and other preferences and desires. Obviously the potential sources of conflict are almost infinite, and the objectives, scope, intensity, methods, number of participants, and outcomes, may also vary greatly. For this, conflict is a natural phenomenon in social relations, as natural as harmony. It is difficult to envision the attainment of positive social goals without it. Humans have been unable to understand conflict because they relate it to destructiveness, antagonism, uncomfortable relationships, violence and war. This idea about conflict has led to avoiding trying to confront a conflict in its early stages, thus leading to the escalation of the situation (Applebaum, 1999).

However, the problem is that conflict is difficult to manage because it comes in two forms--constructive and destructive. In some instances, conflict enables teams to generate higher quality decisions, and a deeper understanding and commitment to the decisions reached. In other instances, conflict gives few of these benefits, and has been shown to degrade decision making and thwart the attainment of project goals.


The present study focuses on the influence of intra-group conflict (because of uncertainty and ambiguity) and its effects on creativity. Some perspectives on conflict suggest that it is beneficial to foster creativity amongst teams (Jehn, 1995; Jehn & Mannix, 2001), while other perspectives suggest that it may have considerable negative effects (Carnevale & Probst, 1998; DeDreu & Weingart, 2003).

To understand the above effects, the author bases the present study on Gilson and Shalley (2004) who suggested that team processes are crucial mechanisms in determining creativity outcomes. Till date, what generates creative outcomes and what are the key team processes involved in generating the said outcomes, remains largely unanswered. In this paper, an attempt is made to understand and resolve inconsistent theoretical predictions about the effects of intra-team conflict on team creativity outcomes. This is done by exploring the effects of both task and relationship conflict on two team creative-process related variables (the extent of information exchange; and the engagement in team creative problem solving), and ultimately on team creative outcomes, thus linking inputs, process and outputs in one model.

Literature Review

Conflicts commonly arise when employees interact in organizations and compete for scarce resources. The individuals working on project teams (service driven or technology driven) experience two types of conflicts: task conflict and interpersonal conflict (Liang, Lin, Lin & Liu, 2007).

* Task conflict involves disagreements about the task itself--debate about the merits of the ideas, plans and types of project to do.

* Relationship conflict reflects anger, tension, friction and personality clashes among team members.

Conflict has been suggested to interfere with team performance and reduce satisfaction because it produces tension, hostility and distracts team members from performing the task. Deutsch (1973), Coser (1956) and Walton (1969) recognized that low levels of conflict could be beneficial. When in conflict, people confront issues, learn to take different perspectives, and need to be creative. When conflict is absent, teams might not realize that inefficiencies exist. Indeed teams make better decisions in the presence of low levels of conflict. The positive effects of conflict are: stimulating involvement in the discussion, improving the quality of decisions and building group cohesion. Task conflict positively affects team performance whereas relationship conflict negatively affects performance (Liang, et al, 2007; Caetano & Passos, 2005). The relationship conflict has a positive influence on the desire to leave the current job, while task conflict does not affect it negatively (Francisco J. Medina, Lourdes Munduate & Miguel A. Dorado, 2005). Many studies have shown that task conflict has a positive effect on team creativity under certain conditions. De Dreu (2006) said that task conflict had a curvilinear effect on innovation and the innovation was optimal at moderate levels of task conflict. Farh (2010) gave a similar conclusion in his study, and found that the team phase also moderated the relationship with the strongest...

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