Literature Review Examines the Role of Conflict and Cohesion in Family Firms | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

April 21, 2021by Noah Shaw0

Summary of:

Bettinelli, C., Mismetti, M., De Massis, A., & Del Bosco, B. (2021). A Review of Conflict and Cohesion in Social Relationships in Family Firms. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice.

Background & Theory:

The research surrounding conflict is often rooted in socio-psychological theories common in organizational behavior scholarship. On the other hand, studies on cohesion are grounded in family science and family business theories. This presents a challenge when trying to investigate how conflict and cohesion both affect social relationships, which is what this literature review focuses on.


Research was consolidated by Cristina Bettinelli et al. to answer the following question:

    1. What does current literature say about the dynamic between conflict and cohesion in social relationships within family firms?


The researchers reviewed 89 studies, first conducting a systematic analysis and then a thematic ontological analysis. 48% of the studies focused on conflict only, 29% focused on cohesion only, and 23% focused on both conflict and cohesion. In the thematic ontological analysis, the researchers identified the main definitions of conflict and cohesion for each study. They then thoroughly analyzed the articles to identify general thematic areas that could describe conflict and cohesion in social relationships. From this analysis, an ontological framework was created that classified themes and aggregated them based on similarity.

Past studies categorize conflict based on type of conflict (relationship, succession, cognitive, and process conflict) and cohesion based on locus, or where cohesion takes place (family, generational, board/TMT, and organization). This being considered, the researchers focused on reconciling these two approaches by categorizing both conflict and cohesion via locus. This allowed for both a consistent comparison of studies on conflict and cohesion as well as a direct focus on social relationships.


The literature review resulted in the general consensus that conflict and cohesion in social relationships within family firms can contribute positively and negatively to relationships and business outcomes. Many articles tended to purport the assumption that conflict was inherently detrimental and cohesion was inherently beneficial. For example, one study found that among other variables, the presence of peace (defined as the lack of conflict) was a driver of family cohesion. The researchers pointed out that this opposite relationship should be taken with a grain of salt because conflict does have the ability to be positive and cohesion, negative.

Very few studies displayed a non-dichotomous relationship between conflict and cohesion. One study that was more balanced demonstrated that cognitive conflict and top management team (TMT) cohesion positively affect organizational performance, and relationship conflict negatively affects organizational performance.

The authors noted that due to the categorization difference between conflict and cohesion, different theories and assumptions are made about whether conflict is always detrimental and cohesion is always beneficial. Due to this, the authors suggest conducting more studies that study both cohesion and conflict under the same categorization in order to advance both research and management practice.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • Conflict and cohesion in social relationships are multi-faceted, as they can both harm and help firms depending on circumstances. Family firms have especially unique dynamics in regard to this (more of which can be read in the full literature review).
  • More research on both conflict and cohesion in social relationships is needed, as it is an area that has not extensively been studied.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: This literature review is full of insights on the dynamics of conflict and cohesion within social relationships, especially in family firms. The findings are too extensive for this summary, but feel free to read the full review here.

For Everyone: The benefits and detriments of conflict and cohesion can be hard to decipher. If you need help determining how conflict and cohesion may be impacting your business, contact us.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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