Research Assesses the Relationship between Intrateam Conflict and Psychological Contract Breach

Summary of:

Cruz, K., Zagenczyk, T., and Hood, A., “Aggregate perceptions of intrateam conflict and individual team member perceptions of team psychological contract breach: The moderating role of individual team member perceptions of team support” (2020). Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 36, Num. 1, pp. 77-86.

Background & Theory:

Psychological contract theory suggests that in exchange for their efforts in an organization, employees develop schemas related to what they perceive the organization owes them in regards to promotions, development, and other factors. Recent research suggests that this dynamic can exist within teams as well, with employees developing psychological contracts with the team as a whole. This study examines the relationship between intrateam conflict and employee psychological contracts.

Question(s):

Research was conducted to answer the following questions:

  1. Do aggregate perceptions of intrateam task conflict and relationship conflict play a role in shaping individual team member perceptions of team psychological contract breach?
  2. What effect do individual perceptions of team support have on the relationship between intrateam task and relationship conflict and team psychological contract breach?

Methods:

Researchers implemented the use of a cross-sectional study design. This study was completed based on a sample of 306 team members across 76 teams and 18 organizations. To measure individual team member perceptions of team psychological contract breach, individual team member perceptions of team support, and control variables, surveys were conducted with 5-item scales (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Team level measures such as aggregate perceptions of intrateam task conflict and relationship conflict were measured similarly.

Results:

Results indicated that aggregate perceptions of intrateam conflict are positively and significantly associated with individual team member perceptions of team psychological contract breach. Task conflict specifically had a stronger correlation in this positive relationship than relationship conflict. Additionally, it was found that individual perceptions of team support do not mitigate the effect of aggregate perceptions of intrateam task conflict. However, individual perceptions of team support were found to mitigate the effect of aggregate perceptions of intrateam relationship conflict.

Stated more plainly, these results suggest that intrateam conflict can lead team members to believe that the team has failed to fulfill its obligations to them, therefore breaking team member psychological contracts. These findings are more prevalent with intrateam task conflict over relationship conflict. It was additionally found that team support mitigates the effects of perceived intrateam relationship conflict. However, it was found that team support did not mitigate the effects of intrateam task conflict.

What We Can Learn:

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

  • Intrateam conflict can lead team members to believe their team has failed to fulfill their obligations to them. Psychological contract breaches like this can be dangerous for organizations. Past research has shown that psychological contract breaches can cause employees to experience negative emotions, leading to a desire for revenge and ultimately, counterproductive behavior and withdrawal.
  • Perceived team support plays a role in mitigating the effects intrateam conflict can have. This suggests that a supportive team culture can help lessen the negative effects of intrateam conflict.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Showing management the weight that conflict can have within teams is important. This can be helpful for establishing intrateam conflict prevention measures like creating supportive team cultures.

For Everyone: Working with a team that is harboring intrateam conflict can be difficult from a psychological standpoint. Reaching out to a manager or a conflict resolution service that can help resolve such conflict will likely improve such a situation.