Conflicts with Friends: A Multiplex View of Friendship and Conflict and Its Association with Performance in Teams

Abstract

Drawing on conservation of resources theory, multiplex social networks research, and the emerging conflict involvement perspective, the purpose of this study is to develop and test a multiplex view of conflict that explicitly accounts for the nature of the social relationships between those involved in intrateam conflict and how these multiplex relationships differentially impact team performance. Data were collected from 120 teams engaged in a 4-month business simulation. Relationship conflicts occurring among team members who are friends have a negative impact on team performance, whereas those occurring between non-friends have a positive impact on team performance. Although we also find non-friend task conflicts to be beneficial for team performance, friend task conflicts have no impact on team performance. This study highlights the dark side of workplace friendships and admonishes managers to pay close attention not only to conflicts among employees, but also to the relational closeness of those involved in conflict. The current study provides empirical support for the emerging conflict involvement perspective by explicitly assessing the number of individuals involved in conflict as well as the type of relationships between them. We also extend research on multiplex relationships from the individual to the team level of analysis. Finally, we respond to calls for studies of multiplexity that include both positive and negative relationships.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The sample for this study was drawn from a larger dataset used in previous research reported by Lee et al. (2014). The variables in the current study do not overlap with those of the previous study.

  2. 2.

    Two of the more common approaches for assessing relations in social networks research are binary networks and valued networks. The binary approach is often used to assess relations on the basis of strength (e.g., strong versus weak ties) or the presence (e.g., ties present or absent). In contrast, the valued network approach is often used to assess group closure, or the overall level of connectivity between members in a group (e.g., Oh et al. 2004). When network data are captured using a continuous measure, the valued approach makes use of the full range of reported responses, whereas the binary approach often results in a dichotomization of the valued data (Hanneman and Riddle 2005). To provide a more comprehensive test of our conceptual model, we employed both approaches in the current study. Because hypothesis testing using both approaches provided similar results, we chose to report only the binary approach in the remainder of the manuscript. We chose the binary perspective as it is more closely aligned with our expectation that team performance is impacted differentially based on the dyadic co-presence of friendship and conflict.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Steve Borgatti, Lindred Greer and Karen Jehn for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank associate editor Julie Olson‐Buchanan and three anonymous reviewers for their developmental feedback.

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Hood, A.C., Cruz, K.S. & Bachrach, D.G. Conflicts with Friends: A Multiplex View of Friendship and Conflict and Its Association with Performance in Teams. J Bus Psychol 32, 73–86 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9436-y

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Keywords

  • Intrateam conflict involvement
  • Team performance
  • Social networks
  • Friendship