People who study conflict in decision making groups divide group conflict into that based on issue-focused controversy and conflict arising from personal tensions or grudges. While issue-based controversy is typically constructive in decision making, personal tensions and grudges are invariably dangerous. The two types of conflict, though, usually occur simultaneously, and this linkage creates a problem when considering how to manage conflict in groups. Clearly, the ideal situation would be to encourage and channel constructive conflict while discouraging the destructive type. The conundrum is how to do so, and, indeed, whether that is even possible. Drawing on a sample of top management teams in 70 hotel companies, this study explores the interrelationship of issue-focused conflict and personal conflict, with an eye to limiting personal conflict without diminishing the open discussion that characterizes personal conflict. The results suggest that within-group trust is the moderating factor that allows teams to gain the benefits of issue-focused conflict without suffering the costs of personal conflict. Moreover, executives' tactical choices during debate seem also to make a big difference. Thus, we recommend trust-development and training in constructive debate practices to enhance executive teams' effectiveness.
Simons, T., & Peterson, R. (2007). Why trust matters in top management teams: Keeping conflict constructive [Electronic article]. Cornell Hospitality Report, 7(14), 6-13.