Research Points to the Effectiveness of Conflict Resolution Skills in Virtual Teams | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

June 8, 2021by Noah Shaw0

Summary of:

Kellen, D. (2021). What impact can conflict resolution skills have on conflict experienced within culturally heterogenous virtual teams. Electronic Theses, Projects, and Dissertations, 1236.

Background & Theory:

As the number of virtual teams has increased over the past few years, organizational leaders have seen mixed results as to their effectiveness. Several studies have found that in-person workplace team conflict impacts their effectiveness, showing the vital role of conflict resolution skills in all employee interactions. However, the question remains: What does the effectiveness of conflict resolution in virtual teams this look like? This study looks at the relationship between cultural heterogeneity, team conflict, and conflict resolution skills in virtual teams.

Question(s):

Research was conducted by Kellen Dohman to answer the following question:

    1. What is the relationship between cultural heterogeneity and task conflict? Do conflict resolution skills moderate this relationship?
    2. What is the relationship between cultural heterogeneity and emotional (relational) conflict? Do conflict resolution skills moderate this relationship?

Methods:

137 participants were recruited for this study, with the majority from the United States and 57.8% male/40.7% female. Participants were required to have worked virtually for at least six months prior to being distributed a survey that measured workplace interpersonal conflict, relational conflict, task conflict, and conflict resolution skills. 72% of participants had worked virtually for two or more years. Interpersonal conflict and task conflict were measured with a previously validated scale by Jehn (1995). Conflict resolution skills in virtual teams were measured via three Likert-type scales: communication competence, problem-solving skills, and self-efficacy in resolving team conflict. Additionally, the author measured cultural heterogeneity, interdependence, and team effectiveness.

Results:

The results showed no significant relationship between cultural heterogeneity and task conflict, which does not support past research findings. Additionally, conflict resolution skills were not a significant moderator of this relationship. Similarly, cultural heterogeneity was not a significant predictor of emotional (relational) conflict. However, the author found that conflict resolution skills were a significant predictor of emotional conflict but were not a moderator in the (non-significant) relationship between cultural heterogeneity and emotional conflict. This suggests that conflict resolution skills may be useful for decreasing relational conflict.

Additional analyses were conducted to determine the relationships between interdependence, task conflict, and conflict resolution skills. The author found a significant relationship between interdependence and task conflict, relational conflict, and team effectiveness. This suggests that interdependence could be either constructive or destructive depending on the level of task and relational conflict. Team effectiveness was found to have a significant negative relationship with relational conflict. Conflict resolution skills were found to have a significant negative relationship with relational conflict, validating previous studies that show relational conflict can inhibit team effectiveness. Additionally, conflict resolution skills were positively related to effectiveness, demonstrating the importance of utilizing such skills among virtual teams.

What We Can Learn:

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

  • The author suggested that due to the positive relationship between conflict resolution skills and effectiveness, training in this subject could be implemented to ensure successful teamwork of culturally heterogenous virtual teams.
  • Organizations should aim to keep relational conflict low among virtual teams to avoid costly destructive conflict. Conflict resolution skills in virtual teams are key to doing this. This being said, conflict resolution training can be utilized as a cost-effective conflict prevention mechanism to ensure employees know how to deal with relational conflict when it arises.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: This study validates the virtual work that many workplace conflict resolution practitioners have assumed since the start of COVID-19. Conflict resolution skills in virtual teams do make a difference, even if not in-person.

For Everyone: The presence of conflict resolution skills in virtual teams can decrease relational conflict and increase virtual team effectiveness. Contact us for information on our conflict resolution training program to help make your virtual team more effective.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems. His writing on the latest workplace conflict resolution research has been featured on Mediate.com.

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