In sociology, intragroup conflict (or infighting) refers to conflict between two or more members of the same group or team. In recent years, intragroup conflict has received a large amount of attention in conflict and group dynamics literature. This increase in interest in studying intragroup conflict may be a natural corollary of the ubiquitous use of work groups and work teams across all levels of organizations, including decision-making task forces, project groups, or production teams. Jehn identified two main types of intragroup conflict: task conflict and relationship (or emotional) conflict (e.g., differences in personal values).
There are a number of antecedents of intragroup conflict. While not an exhaustive list, researchers have identified a number of antecedents of intragroup conflict, including low task or goal uncertainty, increased group size, increased diversity (i.e., gender, age, race), lack of information sharing, and high task interdependence.
Jehn developed the Intragroup Conflict Scale (ICS) to measure the two types of intragroup conflicts (i.e., task and relationship conflict). The ICS consists of eight 7-point Likert scale items which assess intragroup conflict. This scale has been applied in a number of contexts including decision making groups and groups in the moving industry. Furthermore, this scale has high construct and predictive validity.
A recent meta-analysis of 116 empirical studies, examining 8,880 groups, revealed a complex relationship between intragroup conflict and group outcomes. That is, effects of intragroup conflict on group performance or outcome is moderated by a number of factors including the context under which it is examined and the type of outcome. One of the prominent findings from the meta-analysis is that task conflict has a less negative relationship (and at times even positive) with group performance and outcomes than believed previously. The results also showed that intragroup conflict is not always negative or detrimental to group performance; for example, task conflict has been related positively to group performance and outcomes when such conflict occurs in management groups.
Task conflict goes hand in hand with intragroup conflict because task conflict mostly occurs in workplace or group environments. In a business or workplace environment task conflict involves two parties who are unable to reach an agreement or move forward on the task at hand due to differing needs or perspectives. There are essentially three components of task conflict. The first is behavioral. It occurs when someone interferes with your goals or objectives. For example, you wish to keep your work desk neat and tidy, but your coworker keeps leaving piles of paper all over it. The second component is cognitive. It is a disagreement between you and someone else due to a divergence between your interests, needs and objectives and the other person's interests, needs and objectives. For example, let's say you and a fellow researcher both need to use the company's supercomputer to process data on separate research projects. You each disagree about which research project has priority because it is in both of your interests to finish first, but only one of you can  Affective component is the third and final task conflict component. Affect means 'emotional feelings,' and in the cause of conflict, it means negative feelings such as anger, resentment and aggression. Getting into a fight with a coworker over personal resentments is a perfect example.
There is no way to avoid conflict in the workplace. However, there are benefits to conflict in the workplace. A small amount of task conflict is considered healthy for the business because it stimulates creativity. The more an employee thinks about something the better the outcome is. Different perspectives and constant discussions in the work environment creates healthy competition. When there is healthy competition in the workplace it creates for a more interesting atmosphere. When handled with care, task conflict can in fact benefit the business.
- Forsyth, D. R. (2009). Group dynamics. New York: Wadsworth.
- Korsgaard, M. A., Jeong, S. S., Mahony, D. M., & Pitariu, A. H. (2008). A multilevel view of intragroup conflict. Journal of Management, 34, 1222-1252. doi:10.1177/0149206308325124
- De Dreu, C. K. W., & Weingart, L. R. (2003). Task versus relationship conflict, team performance, and team member satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 741-749. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.4.741
- Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282. doi:10.2307/2393638
- Mooney, A. C., Holahan, P. J., & Amason, A. C. (2007). Don’t take it personally: Exploring cognitive conflict as a mediator of affective conflict. Journal of Management Studies, 44, 733-758. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2006.00674.x
- Amason, A. C. & Sapienza, H. J. (1997). The effects of top management team size and interaction norms on cognitive and affective conflict. Journal of Management, 23, 495–516.
- Mohammed, S., & Angell, L. C. (2004). Surface- and deep-level diversity in workgroups: Examining the moderating effects of team orientation and team process on relationship conflict. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 1015-1039. doi:10.1002/job.293
- Pelled, L. H., Eisenhardt, K. M., & Xin, K. R. (1999). Exploring the black box: An analysis of work group diversity, conflict and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 1-28. doi:10.2307/2667029
- Moye, N. A., & Langfred, C. W. (2004). Information sharing and group conflict: Going beyond decision making to understand the effects of information sharing on group performance. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 15, 381-410.
- Deutsch, M. (1949). A theory of cooperation and competition. Human Relations, 2, 129-152.
- Amason, A. C., & Mooney, A. C. (1999). The effects of past performance on top management team conflict in strategic decision making. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 10, 340-359. doi:10.1108/eb022829
- Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict, and performance in workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 741-763. doi:10.2307/2667054
- Pearson, A. W., Ensley, M. D., & Amason, A. C. (2002). An assessment and refinement of Jehn’s intragroup conflict scale. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 13, 110-126. doi:10.1108/eb022870
- de Wit, F. R. C., Greer, L. L., & Jehn, K. A. (2012). The paradox of intragroup conflict: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 360-390. doi:10.1037/a0024844