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Ready to Rumble: How Team Personality Composition and Task Conflict Interact to Improve Performance

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Although prior work has proposed a number of conditions under which task conflict in teams may improve performance, composition variables have been left unexplored. Given the effects of personality traits on team processes and outcomes demonstrated in prior work, investigating whether specific personality compositions influence the effect of task conflict on team performance is critical to researchers' understanding of conflict in teams. Our results indicate that team-level averages of both openness to experience and emotional stability function as moderators of the relationship between task conflict and team performance. Specifically, task conflict had a positive impact on performance in teams with high levels of openness or emotional stability; in contrast, task conflict had a negative impact on performance in teams with low levels of openness or emotional stability. Thus, when task conflict emerges, teams composed of members who are open minded or emotionally stable are best able to leverage conflict to improve performance. Implications for theory and practice are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
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RESEARCH REPORT
Ready to Rumble: How Team Personality Composition and Task Conflict
Interact to Improve Performance
Bret H. Bradley and Anthony C. Klotz
University of Oklahoma
Bennett E. Postlethwaite
Pepperdine University
Kenneth G. Brown
University of Iowa
Although prior work has proposed a number of conditions under which task conflict in teams may
improve performance, composition variables have been left unexplored. Given the effects of personality
traits on team processes and outcomes demonstrated in prior work, investigating whether specific
personality compositions influence the effect of task conflict on team performance is critical to
researchers’ understanding of conflict in teams. Our results indicate that team-level averages of both
openness to experience and emotional stability function as moderators of the relationship between task
conflict and team performance. Specifically, task conflict had a positive impact on performance in teams
with high levels of openness or emotional stability; in contrast, task conflict had a negative impact on
performance in teams with low levels of openness or emotional stability. Thus, when task conflict
emerges, teams composed of members who are open minded or emotionally stable are best able to
leverage conflict to improve performance. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
Keywords: task conflict, team performance, personality composition, openness to experience, emotional
stability
Task conflict can improve team performance but only under
certain conditions. To understand these conditions, researchers
have proposed a number of factors that might facilitate perfor-
mance gains from task conflict (e.g., Jehn & Bendersky, 2003). In
general, previous work has focused on four types of contingen-
cies— characteristics of the conflict (e.g., type, level, and timing),
characteristics of the task (e.g., routineness, interdependence, and
desired outcomes), characteristics of the team (e.g., psychological
safety climate, open discussions of conflict, and collaborative
conflict management), and characteristics of the team members
(e.g., personality, demographics, and background). Whereas prior
studies have empirically demonstrated that characteristics of team
conflict (e.g., Jehn, 1995; Jehn & Mannix, 2001), team tasks (e.g.,
Jehn, 1995), and team states (e.g., Behfar, Peterson, Mannix, &
Trochim, 2008; Bradley, Postlethwaite, Klotz, Hamdani, &
Brown, 2012) can create conditions under which task conflict
improves performance, investigations of the moderating influence
of team-member characteristics are absent from the literature.
Gaining insight into whether specific personality compositions
help teams benefit from conflict should contribute to scholarly
understanding of conflict in teams and provide guidance for prac-
ticing managers trying to better understand how to leverage con-
flict to improve team performance.
The dearth of research investigating how team member charac-
teristics influence the effects of conflict on team outcomes is
surprising, given the recent emphasis placed on managing human
resources in teams (Salas, Stagl, & Burke, 2004), studying per-
sonality effects in teams (Bell, 2007), and understanding the con-
ditions under which conflict can improve team performance (De
Dreu, 2008; McClain Smith, 2008; Shaw et al., 2001). In response,
this study explores the contingency effects of personality compo-
sition on the task conflict and team performance relationship.
Thus, this study has two primary goals. First, drawing on prior
theoretical and empirical work, we explain why high levels of
openness to experience or emotional stability should facilitate
beneficial effects of task conflict on team performance. Second,
we test these hypotheses using data collected from 117 project
teams at three points in time. In doing so, we demonstrate how
team composition can alter the relationship between task conflict
and team performance.
Task Conflict, Team Performance, and Personality
Composition
Task conflict refers to disagreements among group members over
the content of their decisions and differences in viewpoints, ideas, and
opinions related to the task (Jehn, 1995; Simons & Peterson, 2000). In
This article was published Online First September 10, 2012.
Bret H. Bradley and Anthony C. Klotz, Division of Management and
Entrepreneurship, University of Oklahoma; Bennett E. Postlethwaite,
Seaver College, Business Administration Division, Pepperdine University;
Kenneth G. Brown, Department of Management and Organizations, Uni-
versity of Iowa.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bret H.
Bradley, Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Okla-
homa, 219B Adams Hall, Norman, OK 73019. E-mail: Bret-bradley@ou.edu
Journal of Applied Psychology © 2012 American Psychological Association
2013, Vol. 98, No. 2, 385–392 0021-9010/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0029845
385
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
prior theoretical work, it has been argued that task conflict improves
team performance under certain conditions (e.g., Behfar et al., 2008;
Korsgaard, Jeong, Mahony, & Pitariu, 2008), and emerging empirical
evidence finds that the effect of task conflict on team performance
depends on certain contingencies. Specifically, initial meta-analytic
evidence suggested a negative relationship between task conflict and
team performance (␳⫽⫺.23, De Dreu & Weingart, 2003); however,
more recent meta-analytic findings have indicated that this relation-
ship is actually near zero (␳⫽⫺.01, de Wit, Greer, & Jehn, 2012).
The findings of both meta-analyses provided evidence of sufficient
heterogeneity in the effect sizes to indicate the presence of modera-
tors. Specifically, both showed that the credibility interval around the
effect size for task conflict on team performance contained zero (e.g.,
from .38 to .36 in de Wit et al., 2012), leading de Wit and colleagues
to conclude that “the effects of conflict are better understood by a
contingency approach” (2012, p. 13). One potential contingency of
the task conflict and team performance relationship is the personality
composition of the team.
The focus of the majority of research on personality in teams has
been on its direct effects on team outcomes. For example, Bell’s
(2007) meta-analytic investigation showed that all Big Five per-
sonality traits have a direct association with team performance in
field settings. Yet, Moynihan and Peterson (2001) argued that
despite evidence of the direct relationship between team person-
ality composition and team outcomes, a more nuanced understand-
ing of precisely how personality affects team outcomes via its
influence on team processes remains underdeveloped. In addition,
Driskell, Hogan, and Salas (1987) suggested that group personality
influences team performance in two ways—as an input factor that
can increase or decrease the group’s overall resources and as an
interactive factor that can alter the way processes, such as conflict,
impact performance. Consequently, we hypothesized that team
personality composition would play a moderating role in the
relationship between task conflict and team performance.
The Moderating Role of Openness to Experience
Openness to experience refers to the tendency to be open-minded,
imaginative, and curious (Costa & McCrae, 1992). The average team
level of openness to experience should have contingency effects on
the conflict and performance relationship for three main reasons. First,
open individuals tend to enact successful conflict-resolution strate-
gies. For example, Antonioni (1998) found that open people do not
avoid conflict but approach it with a collaborative attitude. In addition,
Moberg (2001) found that open people tend to confront yet compro-
mise in conflict-laden situations. Second, open people tend to be
flexible. In fact, due to the sociotechnical complexity of teamwork,
the flexibility facet of the openness trait is thought to be universally
helpful for individuals interacting in a team context (Driskell, Good-
win, Salas, & O’Shea, 2006; Hackman & Morris, 1978). Indeed,
Burke, Stagl, Salas, Pierce, and Kendall (2006) found that the most
adaptive teams are typically composed of members with high levels of
openness. Further, Flynn (2005) found that open-minded people have
more positive attitudes toward minority team members than individ-
uals low in openness, and as a result, diverse teams high in openness
perform better than diverse teams low in the trait (Homan et al.,
2008).
Third, open people tend to promote open discussions in teams.
A stream of prior work suggests that when team conflict arises,
those able to maintain open discussions will perform at a higher
level than those who are not able to do so (Driskell et al., 2006;
Jehn, 1995; 1997; Jehn & Mannix, 2001). For example, Lovelace,
Shapiro, and Weingart (2001) found that when team members feel
free to express task-related doubts, negative effects of task conflict
on team performance were reduced. Similarly, Behfar et al. (2008)
showed that the highest performing teams openly and explicitly
discussed the underlying reasons for decisions. Finally, minority
dissent (a form of team conflict) has been shown to improve team
innovation, but only when participative decision-making tactics
have been present, such as those typical of open team members
(De Dreu & West, 2001).
Thus, the average level of openness should influence whether
teams can use task conflict to improve performance or whether
they will be damaged by the conflict. When task conflict emerges,
teams with high average levels of openness are not likely to ignore
conflict and let it grow worse but will usually respond with
collaboration, flexibility, and open discussion to ensure that diver-
gent viewpoints are heard. This collaborative climate should en-
able constructive debate, which will increase the likelihood that
team decisions, strategies, and tasks have a positive effect on team
performance. Also, the flexible nature of open team members
enables them to sense when a conflict-laden discussion must give
way to a renewed focus on the task or when social dynamics must
take a back seat to performance demands. Put another way, teams
with high levels of openness will be more likely to engage in
rigorous yet constructive discussions when task conflict arises,
which should lead to greater team performance.
Alternatively, teams with low levels of openness likely will strug-
gle to constructively resolve conflict because they are more prone to
respond to team conflict in a rigid and stubborn manner. In fact, when
task conflict emerges, these teams are more likely to avoid open
discussions of conflicting ideas, thereby stifling potentially construc-
tive discussions. These teams may not recognize the potential that
radical views hold and may feel threatened when strange ideas gain
support in the team. Their inflexibility may also restrict adaptation and
change when a conflict must be resolved. In sum, teams with higher
average levels of openness to experience should benefit from in-
creases in task conflict, while the performance of teams with low
levels of openness will likely be harmed by task conflict.
Hypothesis 1: The average level of a team’s openness to
experience moderates the relationship between task conflict
and team performance such that when openness is high, task
conflict will positively relate to performance and when open-
ness is low, task conflict will negatively relate to performance.
The Moderating Role of Emotional Stability
Emotional stability refers to the tendency to be composed,
steady, and self-assured (Costa & McCrae, 1992). The average
team level of emotional stability should have contingency effects
on the conflict and performance relationship for three primary
reasons. First, emotionally stable people tend to use successful
conflict-resolution strategies. For example, Antonioni (1998)
found that emotionally stable people involve others in resolving
disagreements and are less likely to use conflict-resolution styles
that lead to unsuccessful outcomes, such as obliging and avoiding.
Also, positive emotions, which should be enhanced in teams with
386 BRADLEY, KLOTZ, POSTLETHWAITE, AND BROWN
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emotionally stable people, lead to improved conflict management
(Barsade, 2002; Shah & Jehn, 1993). Teams with high levels of
emotional stability also tend to have a tranquil climate (Reilly,
Lynn, & Aronson, 2002).
Second, emotionally stable people are well adjusted (i.e., free
from anxiety, depression, and hostility). In fact, Driskell et al.
(2006) theorized that the adjustment facet of emotional stability is
universally helpful for individuals interacting in interdependent
team contexts. Specifically, they argued that the level-headed
nature of emotionally stable people drives them to manage conflict
productively within a team. In addition, Behfar et al. (2008) found
that teams that maintained positive emotional states during group
discussions (a strategy they termed open communication) managed
conflict better and, hence, performed better than teams that did not.
Also, teams with high levels of emotional stability tend to interact
cooperatively (Barsade, 2002) and be socially cohesive (Barrick,
Stewart, Neubert, & Mount, 1998).
Finally, emotionally stable people tend to view themselves and
others positively. Their disposition toward positive self-esteem
may be a key factor in not perceiving task conflict as relationship
conflict (Anderson, 2009), which damages performance (De Dreu
& Weingart, 2003; de Wit et al., 2012). Indeed, teams with high
emotional stability exhibit more backing-up behaviors among
teammates (Porter et al., 2003), while teams with low levels of
emotional stability experience increased contagion of negative
emotions (de Jong, Song, & Song, in press) and antisocial behavior
(Korsgaard et al., 2008). Hence, emotionally stable team members
should remain level-headed and engaged during episodes of con-
flict and thus facilitate ongoing communication among team mem-
bers. This relaxed yet active approach to handling team conflict
should set the tone for teams to constructively work through
task-related disagreements, thereby increasing the odds that the
conflict will benefit team performance rather than damage it.
Conversely, when teams are low in emotional stability, task conflict
will likely cause team members to either respond in a hostile manner
or retreat from the group, thereby damaging team communication and
subsequent performance. Indeed, Driskell and colleagues (2006) ar-
gued that “team members who are ill-tempered, distressed, and emo-
tionally unstable are disruptive of any type of coordinated or inde-
pendent behavior” (p. 261). Taken together, teams with high levels of
emotional stability should realize the positive aspects of task conflict,
while teams with low levels of emotional stability will likely be
damaged by task conflict.
Hypothesis 2: The average level of a team’s emotional stabil-
ity moderates the relationship between task conflict and team
performance such that when emotional stability is high, task
conflict will positively relate to performance and when emo-
tional stability is low, task conflict will negatively relate to
performance.
Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness
In this study, we did not hypothesize effects for the other three
Big Five personality traits, for the following reasons: First, the trait
of extraversion describes people who are socially perceptive, ex-
pressive, and seek affiliation, but who also tend to be assertive and
dominant (Costa & McCrae, 1992). As the average level of extra-
version increases in a team, two opposing processes will emerge.
Extraverts tend to enthusiastically participate in group discussions,
which should facilitate the constructive resolution of task conflict
(Mohammed & Angell, 2004). However, competition for domi-
nance among extroverted team members will also be high, which
will likely counteract the ability of teams to resolve task conflict in
a productive manner (Moynihan & Peterson, 2001). Consequently,
some facets of extraversion help conflict contribute to perfor-
mance, while other facets promote dysfunctional conflict and
damage performance. Therefore, team extraversion will likely not
moderate the task conflict and team performance relationship.
Second, the trait of conscientiousness refers to people who are
organized and reliable, but who also tend to be determined and
achievement oriented (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Conscientiousness
relates to employee performance at the individual level more
strongly than any other Big Five personality trait because, across
a number of settings, conscientious individuals pursue the accom-
plishment of job tasks in a persistent and dedicated manner (Bar-
rick & Mount, 1991). In a team environment, however, this deter-
mination to complete tasks may lead conscientious individuals to
be inflexible and narrow-minded (Costa & McCrae, 1992). More-
over, because conscientiousness does not associate with interper-
sonal relations (Barrick et al., 1998), the conditions under which
conscientious team members will constructively engage in task
conflict and when they will doggedly cling to their opinion of how
best to complete team tasks, are unclear. Hence, team conscien-
tiousness is not likely to moderate the relationship between task
conflict and team performance.
Third, the trait of agreeableness associates primarily with inter-
personal interactions and refers to the tendency to be cooperative,
trusting, and sympathetic (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Team agree-
ableness should not affect the relationship between task conflict
and team performance because when teams are high in agreeable-
ness, teammates rarely perceive that conflict occurs (Graziano,
Jensen-Campbell, & Hair, 1996). In other words, as teams become
more agreeable, conflict tends to fade away (Barrick et al., 1998).
In sum, we theorized that team extraversion, conscientiousness,
and agreeableness would not influence the effect of task conflict
on team performance in a consistent manner.
Method
Procedures and Sample
Five hundred sixty-one students from an undergraduate business
course were randomly assigned to teams at the start of a semester.
The final sample contained 117 teams with an average size of 4.8
members.
1
Over the course of the semester, teams worked together
weekly inside and outside the classroom. During the second week
of the semester, each team engaged in a 50-min team-building
exercise. In this exercise, teammates became more familiar with
each other, discussed one another’s expectations regarding team
functioning, decided what would constitute appropriate and inap-
propriate individual behavior, and developed common goals. In the
fourth week, team members completed a questionnaire measuring
their personality traits and completed the first exam in the course,
1
The data come from a larger data collection effort (Bradley et al.,
2012).
387
TEAM PERSONALITY AND TASK CONFLICT
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which served as a control in the study. In the tenth week, partic-
ipants completed another questionnaire assessing task conflict.
Finally, in the 13th week, teams handed in a written team project,
which formed our measure of team performance.
Throughout the semester, teams met to complete course assign-
ments, and the final project represented the culmination of the
team’s work. While a minority of team functions could be divided
and completed individually, the bulk of the project required stu-
dents to work interdependently with their team members. For
example, all team members received the same project grade, so the
outcome was equally shared. Further, the project was structured
such that team members had to work together to correctly use
conceptual models and theories of management functions, group
processes, and leadership. Specifically, students, and teams had to
systematically analyze their own team’s successes and failures
over the course of the semester to demonstrate their proficiency
with the management principles from the course.
Measures
Task conflict. Task conflict was measured using the four-item
scale developed by Jehn (1995). An example item was “There is a
lot of conflict about how to do the task or ideas generated by this
team.” Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was .76, and checks for
aggregating individual responses to the team level using an aver-
age score yielded acceptable values: Median r
wg
.91, mean
r
wg
.84 (SD .17), intraclass correlation (ICC)(1) .11,
ICC(2) .53, F(116, 297) 1.58, p.01.
Openness to experience. Openness to experience was mea-
sured using a 10-item scale from the International Personality Item
Pool (IPIP; Goldberg et al., 2006). A sample item was “I have a
vivid imagination.” Cronbach’s alpha was .79. We used average
scores to form the team-level measure but did not include aggre-
gation statistics because the additive nature of the index makes
them unnecessary (Chan, 1998).
Emotional stability. Emotional stability was measured using
a 10-item scale from the IPIP (Goldberg et al., 2006). A sample
item was “I am relaxed most of the time.” Cronbach’s alpha was
.89. We used average scores to form the team-level measure but
did not include aggregation statistics because the additive nature of
the index makes them unnecessary (Chan, 1998).
Team performance. A four-item measure developed by the
course professor was used to assess team performance. The aver-
age score on these items for each team served as our performance
measure, which is consistent with measures used to assess student
project team performance in prior work (e.g., Barry & Stewart,
1997; Goncalo, Polman, & Maslach, 2010; Mulvey & Klein, 1998;
Price, Harrison, Gavin, & Florey, 2002). The measure evaluated
clarity of written communication, quality of evidence used, accu-
racy of solutions provided, and appropriate use of management
concepts. Cronbach’s alpha for the items was .62, demonstrating
that the criteria were highly correlated but not identical. We used
all four items in our measure of performance because of the
complex nature of the task and because the four items were
specifically designed by the professor to evaluate the performance
of these teams. Because of the number of students in the course,
multiple instructional assistants were trained to use the four-item
performance measure and assign scores for the team projects.
Substantial effort was made to increase consistency across ratings.
Standards for scoring were discussed and practice ratings were
assessed, discrepancies resolved, and rules set for consistency.
After ratings were provided, scores were analyzed and no mean-
ingful differences among raters were detected. Also, a portion of
projects were scored by two raters, and the interrater correlation
was .80.
Control variable. We controlled for the average level of
content knowledge for each team. Because content knowledge
mediates the impact of general mental ability on job performance
(Schmidt & Hunter, 1992; Schmidt, Hunter, & Outerbridge, 1986),
existing knowledge of the course material may have impacted
team performance as performance ratings were based on profi-
ciency with and application of models from the class. Content
knowledge was operationalized as the average of team members’
scores on the first exam in the course.
Results
Hypothesis Testing
Table 1 presents means, standard deviations, and correlations
among the variables measured in this study. We used moderated
hierarchical regression and simple slopes analysis to test all hy-
potheses. The predictor variables were mean-centered, and the
criterion variable was standardized using a zscore to improve
graph interpretability (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). In
Step 1, we entered content knowledge as a control variable. In Step
2, we entered the main effects of task conflict and the moderator
being tested (i.e., Openness to Experience or Emotional Stability).
In Step 3, we entered the product term for the interaction of task
conflict and the moderator and examined the change in variance
explained (R
2
) to assess the interaction.
Hypothesis 1 proposed that the average level of openness to
experience would moderate the relationship between task conflict
and team performance. As noted in Table 2, the interaction term
was significant (R
2
.07, p.01), providing initial support for
Hypotheses 1. We also conducted a simple slopes analysis (Aiken
& West, 1991) and found that at high levels of openness (1SD),
the simple slope was positive and differed significantly from zero,
␤⫽.19, t(110) 1.71, p.05, one-tailed. At low levels of
openness (–1 SD), the simple slope was negative and also differed
significantly from zero, ␤⫽⫺.32, t(110) ⫽⫺2.20, p.05,
one-tailed. These findings provide strong support for Hypothesis 1.
The interaction is graphed in Figure 1.
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, Correlations, and Scale
Reliabilities Among Variables
Variable MSD1234
1. Content knowledge 77.21 5.49
2. Task conflict 1.93 0.44 .04 (.76)
3. Openness 3.80 0.27 .09 .08 (.79)
4. Emotional stability 3.51 0.35 .10 .06 .35
ⴱⴱ
(.89)
5. Team performance 56.09 3.78 .09 .04 .01 .01
Note. Cronbach’s alpha appears along the diagonal in parentheses (N
117 teams).
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
388 BRADLEY, KLOTZ, POSTLETHWAITE, AND BROWN
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Hypothesis 2 proposed that the average level of emotional
stability would moderate the relationship between task conflict and
team performance. As noted in Table 3, the interaction term was
significant (R
2
.05, p.05), providing initial support for
Hypothesis 2. We also conducted a simple slopes analysis (Aiken
& West, 1991) and found that at higher levels of emotional
stability (1SD), the simple slope was positive and differed
significantly from zero, ␤⫽.31, t(110) 1.96, p.05, one-
tailed. At lower levels of emotional stability (–1 SD), the simple
slope was negative and also differed significantly from zero (␤⫽
.22, t(110) ⫽⫺1.68, p.05, one-tailed. These findings provide
strong support for Hypothesis 2. The interaction is graphed in
Figure 2.
Additional analyses revealed that the three nonhypothesized
personality composition traits did not moderate the relationship
and that the results for openness and emotional stability were
consistent with results reported here when all personality variables
were entered into the regression simultaneously. Also, in analyses
suggested by two reviewers, we examined the effects of minimum
and maximum scores for openness and emotional stability. When
these scores were used in place of averages, only maximum
openness and minimum emotional stability revealed significant
interactions. However, the effects for average scores were stronger
and more consistent, suggesting that moderation occurs through
the composition of the entire team rather than the characteristic of
a single team member.
Discussion
Although recent work demonstrates that characteristics of the
conflict, the task, and the team may help task conflict improve
team performance, no research to date has explored characteristics
of team composition (e.g., personality) as contingencies of this
relationship. This study’s findings increase understanding of how
Table 2
Moderated Regression Results for Average Openness to
Experience With Team Performance
Variable Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Control
Team content knowledge 0.09 0.08 0.08
Main
Team task conflict 0.04 0.08
Team openness to experience 0.01 0.07
Interaction
Conflict Openness to Experience 0.27
ⴱⴱ
Total R
2
0.01 0.01 0.08
Model Fchange 0.83 0.10 8.18
ⴱⴱ
R
2
0.00 0.07
ⴱⴱ
Note. N 117 teams. All entries are standardized regression coefficients.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
-0.40
-0.20
0.00
0.20
0.40
0.60
Low High
Team Pe rforma nce
Team Ta sk Conflict
High openness to
experience
Low openness to
experience
Figure 1. The moderating effect of openness to experience on the rela-
tionship between task conflict and team performance.
Table 3
Moderated Regression Results For Average Emotional Stability
With Team Performance
Variable Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Control
Team content knowledge 0.09 0.08 0.11
Main
Team task conflict 0.04 0.07
Team emotional stability 0.01 0.04
Interaction
Conflict Emotional Stability 0.23
Total R
2
0.01 0.01 0.06
Model Fchange 0.83 0.10 5.83
R
2
0.00 0.05
Note. N 117 teams. All entries are standardized regression coefficients.
p.05.
-0.40
-0.20
0.00
0.20
0.40
Low High
Team Performance
Team Task Conflict
High emotional
stability
Low emotional
stability
Figure 2. The moderating effect of emotional stability on the relationship
between task conflict and team performance.
389
TEAM PERSONALITY AND TASK CONFLICT
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conflict functions in teams and provides guidance to practicing
team leaders looking to exploit the benefits of conflict within
teams. We found that teams with high levels of openness to
experience or emotional stability experienced a positive impact of
task conflict on performance, and teams with low levels of open-
ness or emotional stability experienced a negative impact. Hence,
this study supports the notion that the characteristics of team
members play a critical role in determining the nature of the
impact of task conflict on team performance.
Theoretical Implications
The dearth of investigations into compositional moderators of
the association between team conflict and performance is not due
to lack of interest or potential in the area. Indeed, Korsgaard et al.
(2008) noted that “there has been renewed recognition of the role
of personality traits in conflict” (p. 1229). Further, Jehn and
Bendersky (2003) suggested that the composition of team member
diversity may moderate conflict and performance in teams. In this
article, we followed these and other calls for work exploring
individual characteristics and how they impact the usefulness of
task conflict. In doing so, we extend the literature on moderators of
team conflict by demonstrating that the average team level of two
personality traits moderate the relationship between task conflict
and team performance.
The results of this study have theoretical implications for the
team composition literature. Prior work has found that average
levels of the Big Five traits influence team outcomes (e.g., Barrick
et al., 1998; Bell, 2007; Neuman, Wagner, & Christiansen, 1999).
We enriched this stream of work by showing one path through
which compositional elements influence team outcomes—via their
moderating influence on team processes. More specifically, previ-
ous studies have linked team member openness with team perfor-
mance (LePine, 2003; Neuman et al., 1999), but we found that
team openness also shapes how teams handle task conflict. Simi-
larly, prior research has suggested that tendencies associated with
emotional stability may positively or negatively influence team
outcomes (de Jong et al., in press; Porter et al., 2003), and we
found that teams’ average emotional stability impacts team out-
comes via moderation effects. In sum, the results suggest that
conceptualizing team personality as a moderator of process-
performance relationships advances our understanding of team
dynamics and performance.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
This study is not without limitations. Although we measured the
constructs at different points in time, more research establishing
causality, such as the processes by which the moderation effects
occur, is needed. Also, the participants in this study were under-
graduates, which may threaten the external validity of the results.
Nonetheless, these students performed in real teams over the
course of a semester, engaged in business-relevant activities, and
worked interdependently on the final course project. Further, a
significant percentage of each student’s overall course grade
(30%) was derived from his or her team’s performance. Thus,
many elements of the context and task bolster the external validity
of the findings.
Future work should explore compositional elements within
teams beyond the Big Five personality traits that may foster a
context in which conflict improves performance. For example,
people high in proactive personality tend to foresee problems and
proactively implement solutions (Bateman & Crant, 1993) and
may help resolve conflict in a constructive manner. Additionally,
Driskell and Salas (1992) showed that some individuals differ in
their proclivity to accomplish tasks in a team (i.e., collective
orientation) versus individually (i.e., egocentric orientation). It
may be that teams composed of collectively oriented members will
be more capable than egocentric teams to deal with task conflict
constructively when it emerges. Last, the aggregated knowledge,
skills, and abilities of team members may also influence how
teams deal with task conflict. For example, when teams possess
greater knowledge of task work and teamwork (Cooke et al.,
2003), they should be better prepared to deal with conflict.
In addition, minimum or maximum scores may provide even
more insight into the contingent effects of personality composition
in teams. For example, one highly open teammate may not only
encourage task conflict but also help other teammates see its
potential benefits. Also, one extremely emotionally unstable team-
mate may disrupt internal teamwork dynamics and make any
attempts at rigorous debate fruitless. We encourage further theo-
retical and empirical exploration of how alternative personality
aggregations may improve our understanding of the relationship
between conflict and team performance.
Also, the interactions found in our analyses are cross-over in
nature; in other words, teams that had low levels of task conflict
and low openness or emotional stability performed about as well as
teams with high levels of task conflict and high openness or
emotional stability. This aligns with recent meta-analytic evidence
that the overall relationship between task conflict and team per-
formance is virtually zero (␳⫽⫺.01, de Wit et al., 2012). Put
another way, low levels of conflict may be functional for certain
teams, given specific compositions. While this conclusion appears
to contradict the work of Tjosvold (2008) and others who cite the
benefits of task conflict, it would be premature to conclude that
some teams should avoid conflict entirely. It is possible that the
low conflict (and low emotional stability or low openness) teams
in our study found a way to engage in sufficient information
exchange to boost performance without engaging in task conflict.
In fact, some team members may recognize the average disposition
of the team and manage information exchange in ways that reso-
nate with those low in openness or emotional stability. The pos-
sibility that some team members may employ different strategies
to foster information exchange, and possibly reduce conflict while
still boosting performance, would be an interesting avenue for
future research.
Finally, different types of tasks (Prewett, Walvoord, Stilson,
Rossi, & Brannick, 2009) or teams (Sundstrom, 1999) may change
how personality impacts the task conflict and team performance
relationship. For example, trait activation theory (Tett & Guter-
man, 2000) posits that different types of work groups present
different cues for personality trait expression. Accordingly, Tett
and Burnett (2003) proposed that emotional stability should have
relevance to action and performing teams, while openness should
have relevance to both action and performing teams and project
teams. Given the nature of the teams in the current study, our
investigation focused on the interaction of these two traits with
task conflict. However, it would be beneficial for future research to
examine the interaction of other personality traits with task conflict
390 BRADLEY, KLOTZ, POSTLETHWAITE, AND BROWN
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
in different team types (e.g., conscientiousness and task conflict in
product management teams, or agreeableness and task conflict in
customer-service teams).
Practical Implications
The findings of this study provide managers with some guidance
concerning how to compose teams to capitalize on task conflict.
Specifically, our results suggest that when building teams, man-
agers should take into account the personalities of future team
members and ensure that the group has an adequate level of
openness or emotional stability. This consideration will be partic-
ularly important in teams performing nonroutine tasks, where task
conflict is especially likely to occur (Jehn, 1995). In addition,
when managers find that an existing team is floundering due to the
detrimental effects of task conflict, they should consider teammate
personalities as possible contributors to the problem, in addition to
other moderators of task conflict and team performance, such as
the psychological safety climate (Bradley et al., 2012) or team
tasks (Jehn, 1995). By replacing someone low in emotional sta-
bility or openness with an employee who is high in this trait,
thereby quickly elevating the overall level of this trait in the team,
the influence of task conflict on team performance may move from
destructive to complementary.
Conclusion
Task conflict can improve team performance but only under the
right conditions. One previously unexplored condition is the mix
of people on a team. We find that individuals who are open to a
broad array of experiences, ideas, and opinions and people who are
naturally emotionally stable are ideally suited to foster the benefits
of task conflict in teams. Beyond the theoretical and practical
implications of these results, we hope this investigation will spur
future work that explores more precisely how team composition
influences the relationship between conflict and performance.
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Received March 13, 2012
Revision received June 26, 2012
Accepted July 13, 2012
392 BRADLEY, KLOTZ, POSTLETHWAITE, AND BROWN
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... First, we analyze task conflict as a potential key driver to stimulate individual creativity to provide additional support of recent research about task conflict and individual creativity (De Clercq et al., 2017, 2020Li et al., 2019). We argue that task conflict represents a source of information, stimulating cooperation and information exchange with teammates (Bradley et al., 2013;Jehn, 1997) and increasing an employee's creativity. Our focus on task conflict is in line with recent research that suggests that task conflict can be beneficial for innovation, because it stimulates ideas and constructive suggestions (Guo and Wang, 2017;Li et al., 2019). ...
... We expect that potential beneficial task conflict effects should be facilitated when an employee applies a cooperative conflict management and avoids a competitive conflict management (Figure 1). This allows us to contribute to the debate about task conflict effects (Bradley et al., 2013;Jehn, 1997;Schaeffner et al., 2015). This research stream is characterized by inconsistent findings, reporting beneficial, non-significant, and dysfunctional task conflict effects on employee outcomes (Bradley et al., 2012(Bradley et al., , 2013. ...
... This allows us to contribute to the debate about task conflict effects (Bradley et al., 2013;Jehn, 1997;Schaeffner et al., 2015). This research stream is characterized by inconsistent findings, reporting beneficial, non-significant, and dysfunctional task conflict effects on employee outcomes (Bradley et al., 2012(Bradley et al., , 2013. We analyze whether the employee's conflict management approach is a key factor to understand task conflict effects. ...
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Purpose A dynamic and changing international business environment and higher needs for innovation have increased the importance of creativity in organizations. Organizations need creative employees to develop new methods and procedures that stimulate innovation. However, prior research indicates that employees are sometimes passive and avoid engaging in creative behavior. To promote individual creative behavior, this study aims to better understand the role of task conflict and conflict management. More specifically, the authors draw on Deutsch’s conflict theory of cooperation and competition to test whether an employee’s conflict management moderates the indirect relationship between task conflict and creativity through cooperation. Design/methodology/approach To test the hypotheses, the authors conducted a three-phase survey study with 428 employees from different German organizations. Findings The results suggest that task conflict has only a positive indirect relationship with creativity through cooperation with teammates when employees avoid a competitive conflict management style. Originality/value The authors draw on Deutsch’s conflict theory of cooperation and competition to integrate research on task conflict and conflict management, allowing them to explain why and when task conflict with teammates influences an employee’s creativity. The findings show that task conflict is particularly beneficial for cooperation and creativity if employees avoid closed-minded discussions and competitive interactions with coworkers.
... Eleven studies [26,[53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62] explored how the relationship between supportive team behaviour, the ability to anticipate other team members' needs through accurate knowledge about their roles and responsibilities [7], and team performance, complement each other (Table 3). Teams with strong group identity, communication and structural cohesion mitigated the adverse consequences of team conflict and collective team failure [53,56,60,61,63], Relationship conflict within teams has negative consequences on task performance [57,59]. ...
... Teams with strong group identity, communication and structural cohesion mitigated the adverse consequences of team conflict and collective team failure [53,56,60,61,63], Relationship conflict within teams has negative consequences on task performance [57,59]. Task conflict has positive impacts on team performance in teams exhibiting high levels of openness and emotional stability [54,55,57]. Members within teams that engage in more cooperative behaviours become more efficient, effective, and viable [55,56,60,61]. ...
... Task conflict has positive impacts on team performance in teams exhibiting high levels of openness and emotional stability [54,55,57]. Members within teams that engage in more cooperative behaviours become more efficient, effective, and viable [55,56,60,61]. Supportive team behaviour has additional positive effects on team performance when in combination with performance monitoring [26]. ...
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... Leaders can foster psychological safety by establishing and enforcing safe expectations for communication. Psychological safety has received much attention in the teams scientific literature; empirical studies suggest that teams high in psychological safety manage conflict more effectively (Bradley et al., 2013), learn more effectively from work experiences (Ortega et al., 2014), and display greater overall levels of team work performance (Edmondson, 1999). ...
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Drawing on the job demands–resources model, this study examined the effect of workplace conflict as a work demand on job-related well-being (proxy by job satisfaction) while assessing the direct and buffering roles of job resources (employee development and supervisor support). The study employed a survey data from 130 employees of a major local government institution in Accra, Ghana, and the data were analysed using multiple regression and Hayes’ PROCESS macro moderation technique. The findings revealed that while workplace conflict has a significant negative effect on employee job-related well-being, employee development and supervisor support have significant positive effects but their interactions with workplace conflict show insignificant effects on employee job-related well-being. Our study provides new empirical evidence to extend the workplace conflict and employee well-being literature generally, and within the local government setting in particular. Furthermore, it contributes to the job demands–resources model by validating the dual pathways (job resources and job demands) of improving well-being while suggesting that a mismatch between the level of job demands and job resources may render their interactive effects ineffective.
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Despite the recent surge of research on leader humility, it is still unclear how and when teams benefit from it. Drawing on social cognitive theory, we propose a moderated mediation model that we test using multisource, time‐lagged data collected from 71 teams in a university‐affiliated hospital. We find that humble leaders indirectly enhance team innovation via greater team reflexivity. Additionally, we consider the average level of proactive personality of team members as a boundary condition of the positive effect of leader humility. Our results show that leader humility prompts team reflexivity only when team mean level of proactive personality is high, which in turn increases team innovation. Bridging research on leader humility with the team domain, our study offers important implications for both theory and practice.
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The purpose of this article is to conceptualize a novel theoretical occurrence—team physical activity (PA)—and its relevance for researchers and organizations. By building a testable model of the consequences and contingencies of team PA, we integrate the science of teamwork with the scholarly domain of employee health and well-being. Hence, we clarify the construct of team PA, present a three-dimensional typology, and outline a model drawing on neuroscience, positive organizational behavior, and teams research. Our propositions and subsequent discussion proffer an outline of potential benefits for organizations when they increase the utility and frequency of team PA. We also suggest ways in which researchers can advance scholarship in this area.
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Drawing from recognition‐based categorization and self‐fulfilling prophecy theory, the present study investigates antecedents and consequences of leaders’ implicit followership theories (LIFTs). Using latent variable modelling, in a sample of 230 leader‐follower dyads, we support our hypotheses that follower personality and in‐role behaviour influence LIFTs which, in turn, affect follower effort and performance. Specifically, we found that general factor of personality (GFP), including agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, intellect, and emotional stability, positively predicted positive LIFTs and negatively predicted negative LIFTs. Furthermore, personality had an indirect effect on positive and negative LIFTs via active engagement and independent thinking behaviours respectively. With respect to outcomes, positive LIFTs indirectly impacted follower performance via effort. Contrary to our predictions, negative LIFTs also indirectly impacted follower performance via effort, despite showing a negative direct relationship with performance. Our comprehensive model reveals new insights on LIFTs and highlights the importance of educating both leaders and followers about LIFTs. Managers should be cognizant of the follower traits and behaviours that influence their expectations of followers and be mindful of the potential harm done by negative expectations. Followers should be mindful of the way they engage with their leaders, especially when it comes to independent thinking behaviours which may be construed as rude or overly critical. Finally, organizations should encourage leaders and followers to discuss implicit expectations as this may resolve misinterpretations of behaviour and negative attributions of performance.
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We investigate how and when ethical leadership predicts team creativity. With its strong compliance with organizational norms and procedures, ethical leadership can be seen as antithetical to creativity. Similarly, collective need for cognitive closure can negatively impact creativity as this is a motivational tendency toward making quick decisions and avoiding open-ended processes. However, we argue that they both can have a positive effect on team creativity when collective team identification is considered as an underlying mechanism. Accordingly, we hypothesize that ethical leadership fosters team creativity via strengthening collective team identification, and collective need for cognitive closure positively moderates the indirect relationship between ethical leadership and team creativity via collective team identification. We studied 55 teams in a food-services organization in South Korea in a multi-wave and multi-source design and found support for our hypotheses.
Article
Full-text available
Conflict is a ubiquitous feature of groups in organizations that clearly affects group performance. While prior research has investigated the role of personality on conflict resolution styles at the individual level, little work has examined the role of personality on the emergence of conflict. This may be partially due to the fact that the emergence of conflict is inherently a group-level phenomenon, and thus requires the aggregation of personality to the group (or at least dyadic) level of analysis. I propose that each of the Big Five personality traits (or specific facets), at the group level, affect the emergence of either task conflict, relationship conflict, or both. Developing our understanding of how group personality composition affects both of these types of conflict is necessary to better enable groups to manage conflict, and thereby lessen potentially harmful outcomes resulting from conflict.
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Full-text available
In this study, the authors investigated the relationship between work team effectiveness and two distinct aspects of the personality composition of teams: (a) the average level of a given trait within a team, referred to as team personality elevation (TPE); and (b) the variability or differences in personality traits found within a team, or team personality diversity (TPD). Retail assistants (N = 328) working in 82 teams were assessed on a broad range of traits organized around the framework of the Big Five personality factors. Across the set of Big Five traits, TPE and TPD predicted unique variance in ratings of team job performance. For each specific trait of the Big Five, either TPE or TPD predicted team performance. For the traits of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience, TPE was positively related to team performance; TPD of extraversion and emotional stability was positively related to team performance.
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This study examined how the performance of diverse teams is affected by member openness to experience and the extent to which team reward structure emphasizes intragroup differences. Fifty-eight heterogeneous four-person teams engaged in an interactive task. Teams in which reward structure converged with diversity (i.e., “faultline” teams) performed more poorly than teams in which reward structure cut across differences between group members or pointed to a “superordinate identity.” High openness to experience positively influenced teams in which differences were salient (i.e., faultline and “cross-categorized” teams) but not teams with a superordinate identity. This effect was mediated by information elaboration.
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I attempt to explain why employees prefer different forms of social exchange by proposing that such preferences align with their identity orientations. I also develop a model outlining how identity orientations play an important role in developing employee exchange relations and how they may help predict the consequences of exchange dynamics. By identifying linkages between identity orientations and forms of social exchange, I hope to stimulate future research on the connections between social exchange theory and the identity orientation framework.
Conference Paper
Six hundred fifty-two employees composing 51 work teams participated in a study examining relationships among team composition (ability and personality), team process (social cohesion), and team outcomes (team viability and team performance). Mean, variance, minimum, and maximum were 4 scoring methods used to operationalize the team composition variables to capture the team members' characteristics. With respect to composition variables, teams higher in general mental ability (GMA), conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and emotional stability received higher supervisor ratings for team performance. Teams higher in GMA, extraversion, and emotional stability received higher supervisor ratings for team viability. Results also show that extraversion and emotional stability were associated with team viability through social cohesion. Implications and future research needs are discussed.
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Increasing competition resulting from the global and technological nature of markets has heightened the need for businesses to rely on cross-functional new product teams to produce innovations in a timely manner; yet functionally diverse teams' inevitable disagreements often appear to prevent this. In a study of 43 such teams, we found that the effect of task disagreement on team outcomes depended on how free members felt to express task-related doubts and how collaboratively or contentiously these doubts were expressed. Implications for managing the journey from disagreement to agreement in cross-functional new product teams are discussed.
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We argue that past research has taken one of three basic theoretical approaches to explaining the nature of member personality effects on group process and team performance: (1) universal - certain traits always predict teamwork success; (2) contingent - certain traits predict team performance depending on the task or organizational culture; and (3) configuration - the mix of traits within a group, or the “fit” of individual members with each other, predicts team performance. Each of these three approaches to personality in groups has received significant empirical support in the literature and yet has some shortcomings. We offer suggestions for improving research using each approach but argue that a full understanding of the role of personality in group processes must integrate all three of these approaches into what we call the contingent configuration approach. We conclude by discussing the implications of adopting this approach to understanding the role of personality in organizational groups.