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August 14, 2010 Holahan, Mooney & Paul publish
Holahan, P.J, Mooney, C.M., & Paul, L. F. (in press). Moderating Effects of Geographic Dispersion and Team Tenure on the Task-Affective Conflict Relationship. Current Topics in Management, Vol. 15.
This research investigates the impact of geographic dispersion and team tenure on the link between task and affective conflict. This link is crucial because when teams experience task conflict, research suggests that team members have a tendency to react by making negative attributions about other team members, which in turn triggers affective conflict that is harmful to team performance. Thus, understanding how geographic dispersion and team tenure influence the task conflict-affective conflict link is important because so many teams today are geographically dispersed, and evidence suggests that geographically dispersed teams are on the rise.
Using data from 94 project teams, we find support for our hypothesis that geographically dispersed teams are more likely to trigger affective conflict when they engage in task conflict. The rationale for this hypothesis is based largely on theory suggesting that geographically dispersed teams are likely to rely on technology-mediated communication, which provides less social and contextual information and encourages more uninhibited behavior and harsher language than face-to-face communication.
We also explore the impact of team tenure as a moderator of the impact of geographic dispersion on the task conflict – affective conflict link. Theory suggests that as co-located teams work together, they develop behavioral norms and a shared identity which helps them keep conflict task-oriented. As expected, team tenure decreased the strong positive correlation between task and affective conflict in co-located teams. However, team tenure had no effect on the task-affective conflict link in geographically distributed teams. Thus, it appears keeping conflict task-oriented is problematic for geographically distributed teams and this problem persists over time even as teams gain more experience working together. In other words, compared to co-located teams, geographically dispersed teams seem to experience more affective conflict that festers longer and resists resolution. In this paper, we also discuss the implications of our findings for managing distributed teams and possible directions for future research.