Conflict Management between Departments: Contribution of Organizational Identification and Controversy Essay
Structural equation results of interviews of specific incidents collected from 129 business people in China support the model that cooperative, but not competitive goals between departments induce constructive controversy dynamics among employees from different departments that in turn result in organizational task accomplishment, commitment to the organization, and confidence in working together in the future. Results further indicate that organizational identification moderated the association of competitive goal interdependence with constructive controversy such that the negative association was weaker with higher organizational identification. These results underline the positive role of organizational identification in conflict management between departments, especially under competitive goals. Keywords conflict management, constructive controversy, goal interdependence, organizational identification
Conflict Management between Departments: Contribution of Organizational Identification and Controversy Introduction
Practitioners and researchers have long understood that effective collaboration between departments within organizations critically helps organizations respond to global competition and rapid changes in markets (Carmeli & Gittell, 2009; Van Knippenberg, 2003). However, conflicts between departments are more frequent within organizations because of the increasing use of organic and flexible team-based structures and as professional specialization and workforce diversification expand (Lovelace, Shapiro, & Weingart, 2001; Nauta & Sanders, 2001). Constructive controversy is demonstrated as an effective way to promote productive conflict management within teams and departments (De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008; Johnson, Johnson, & Tjosvold, 2006). Research is needed to examine how constructive controversy dynamics contribute to effective collaboration between departments within organizations. Numerous empirical studies on Deutsch’s (1973) goal interdependence theory provide robust support that when people emphasize their cooperative rather than competitive goals they express their opposing views openly and constructively (Tjosvold, 2008). Examinations of goal interdependence in conflict management have been conducted almost exclusively at the interpersonal level and have included less consideration of goal interdependence at the inter-group level. Most of the existing studies have underlined the importance of cooperative goals and identified different ways to foster cooperative goals. However, departments within organizations often aim at different organizational goals, which may well be competitively related (Chen & Tjosvold, 2012; John, 1991; Nauta, De Dreu, & Vaart, 2002). Interdepartmental goal incompatibility can very much reduce overall organizational effectiveness (Nauta et al., 2002).
Research on how to attenuate the negative effect of competitive goal interdependence on productive conflict outcomes requires further exploration. Recently, researchers have used social identity theory to explain the relationship between employees and their organizations and employee behaviors. Scholars have argued that employees are able to think and act in ways that are supportive of organizational goals and interests if they identify with the organization (Pratt, 2000). Meanwhile, studies have illustrated the need for more contextual analyses of identity processes (Stryker, 2000), including competitive vs. cooperative intergroup interdependence as an important context (Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughlin-Volpe, 2004). This study uses the theory of goal interdependence (Deutsch, 1973) to analyze the nature of relationships between departments in organizations. We examine the proposition, derived from the theory of goal interdependence, that constructive controversy dynamic between employees from different departments is influenced by how employees perceived the goal relationship (i.e. cooperative goal interdependence and competitive goal interdependence) between departments. This study also explores the moderating role of organizational identification in interdepartmental conflict management. We investigate whether one aspect of social identity, organizational identification, can moderate the effect of interdepartmental competitive goals on constructive controversy dynamic so that it enhances productive conflict outcomes. In doing so, we answer calls from both the social identity and the conflict management literatures and connect research on social identity and conflict management. The combined consideration of goal interdependence and social identity may improve our theoretical understanding of conflict management processes in organizations and may result in stronger practical tools to promote interdepartmental collaboration.
Constructive Controversy to Manage Conflict between Departments Effective collaboration between departments is a pressing challenge for organizations (Van Knippenberg, 2003). Resource and workflow interdependence between departments, differences in their short-term objectives, and their desires for autonomy produce strains and stimulate increasing conflict among the employees from different departments (Lovelace et al., 2001; Nauta & Sanders, 2001). Previous studies have shown that conflict itself is neither productive nor destructive, but depends on how it is managed (Lovelace et al., 2001; Tjosvold, Law, & Sun, 2006). Thus, realizing the value of conflict between departments and getting to know how to manage interdepartmental conflict effectively in order to capitalize on the potential positive outcomes of conflict are important to organizations (Rahim, 2011). A central conflict management mechanism is the open-minded discussion of conflicting perspectives for mutual benefit, labeled constructive controversy (Johnson et al., 2006). Constructive controversy, through displaying the value of intellectual opposition, is demonstrated as an effective way to promote productive conflict management within teams and departments in the West (Amason, 1996; De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008; Johnson et al., 2006; Tjosvold, 2008). A yet unexamined issue has to do with how constructive controversy dynamics contribute to effective collaboration between departments within organizations in a collectivistic eastern culture like China. Controversy refers to the intellectual aspects of conflict in that it occurs when conflict participants express their opposing ideas, opinions, conclusions, theories, and information that at least temporarily obstruct resolving issues. Researchers have emphasized that protagonists are able to discuss conflicts openly and productively when they seek mutually acceptable solutions (Jehn, 1997; Somech, Desivilva, & Lidogoster, 2009). Open-minded discussion can invoke interest in searching for more information and understanding of the opposing position (Hare, 2003). Confronted with opposing views, protagonists begin to doubt the adequacy of their own perspective and are motivated to search the arguments of opposing positions by asking questions and demonstrating more understanding.
Then protagonists make their ideas public, challenge the weaknesses in each other’s arguments, and lay the groundwork to incorporate the best of each other’s position to create integrative solutions (De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008). Constructive controversy is an effective way to capitalize on the potential positive outcomes of conflict (De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008). Constructive controversy leads to task accomplishment, job satisfaction, job performance, low intention to quit, and high confidence for future collaboration (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Tjosvold, 1998; Tjosvold, Hui, & Yu, 2003). Task accomplishment, employees’ intention to quit, and the confidence for future collaboration are often used to measure the outcomes of conflict management and are especially salient in this study’s context (Das & Teng, 1998; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Mohamed, Taylor, & Hassan, 2006; Tjosvold, 1998). This study argues that constructive controversy can help employees from different departments in organizations manage conflicts productively so that they can collaborate effectively. The constructive controversy dynamics lead to quality solutions that employees from different departments accept and implement that bring organizational task accomplishment and develop their commitment to the organization and confidence in working together in the future. Based on the above literature review and reasoning, we propose the following hypotheses. Hypothesis 1a: Employees from different departments complete tasks to the extent that they engage in constructive controversy. Hypothesis 1b: Employees from different departments undermine their intentions to quit to the extent that they engage in constructive controversy. Hypothesis 1c: Employees from different departments develop confidence in working together in the future to the extent that they engage in constructive controversy. Goal Interdependence Theory
Recently theorists from the West have joined Asian ones in arguing that the collaboration between organizational members greatly depends on the nature of their relationships (Gersick, Bartunek, & Dutton, 2000; Kostova & Roth, 2003). This study uses the theory of goal interdependence to understand when departments engage in constructive controversy. Specifically, when departments develop cooperative, rather than competitive goals with each other, employees from different departments are expected to discuss their different ideas constructively. Empirical studies conducted in both Western and Eastern countries provide robust support to the theory of cooperative and competitive goal interdependence (Tjosvold, 2008). Deutsch (1973) argued that the way goals are perceived to be structured determines how people interact, and these interaction patterns in turn determine outcomes (Deutsch, 1973; Stanne, Johnson, & Johnson, 1999). Goals may be considered cooperatively or competitively related. In cooperative goals, people perceive their goal achievements are positively correlated so that as one moves toward goal achievement, others do too. In competitive goals, people perceive their goal achievements are negatively correlated so that each perceives that the achievement of one prohibits or makes it less likely that others will achieve their goals. Experimental and field studies suggest that strong, cooperative relationships are a vital foundation for the open and constructive discussion of conflict (Tjosvold, 2008; Tjosvold, Leung & Johnson, 2006). Employees with cooperative goals expect mutual assistance from each other because as they help others attain their goals that helps themselves reach their goals.
They are successful together. When employees from different departments perceive they have cooperative interdepartmental goals, they encourage each other to express their feelings and doubts fully, including opposing views as they want to use the best ideas from everyone to develop a decision that is useful for all. To do that, they incorporate opposing ideas and information to make high-quality decisions (Deutsch, 1973; Johnson & Johnson, 2005; Tjosvold, 1998, 2008). In these ways, emphasizing cooperative interdependence contributes substantially to making controversy constructive. However, when employees from different departments perceive they have competitive interdepartmental goals, they expect each other to work for their own department’s goals at the expense of other departments’ goals. Employees from different departments doubt that they will combine their information and ideas to solve conflicts. They are suspicious that if they identify issues and mistakes that others may use this knowledge against them to obstruct the goal progress so that they can “win” (Deutsch, 1973; Stanne et al., 1999). These arguments lead to the second set of propositions in this study. Hypothesis 2a: Employees from different departments are more likely to engage in constructive controversy to the extent that they perceive cooperative goal relationship between departments. Hypothesis 2b: Employees from different departments are less likely to engage in constructive controversy to the extent that they perceive competitive goal relationship between departments. Constructive Controversy as Mediating Interdepartmental Goal Interdependence and Conflict
Outcomes A review of the literature offers strong support for the first two sets of hypotheses. If the first two sets of hypotheses are taken to be logical premises, they suggest a third set of hypotheses as a conclusion. If interdepartmental goal interdependence affects constructive controversy and constructive controversy affects conflict outcomes, then constructive controversy is a mediating (intervening) construct. Interdepartmental goal interdependence has only indirect effects on conflict outcomes. Specifically, in the context of conflict among employees from different department within organization, interdepartmental goal interdependence between employees from different departments affects constructive controversy that in turn affects task accomplishment, employees’ quit intention and confidence for future collaboration. Therefore, this study proposes that constructive controversy mediates the influence of interdepartmental goal interdependence on conflict outcomes. These considerations are captured in the following hypothesis. Hypothesis 3: The relationship between interdepartmental goal interdependence and conflict outcomes is mediated by the constructive controversy between employees from different departments. Prevalence of Perceived Competitive Goals between Departments In order to pursue overall organizational goals such as profit maximization, survival, and benefit (Haroun & Duffuaa, 2009), organizations have to divide the overall organizational goals into several different sub goals for divisions, units, departments and people. This distribution of goals within the organization leads to the problem of coordination among these units. Interdepartmental coordination is particularly problematic because the goals of different departments not only tend to be different, but can also be perceived as incompatible (Chen & Tjosvold, 2012; John, 1991; Nauta, et al., 2002). An important concept in organizational behavior is differentiation, i.e., the idea that organizational members from departments have tasks, responsibilities, and characteristics different from other departments (Hall, 1972; Ruyter & Wetzels, 2000).
These variations may lead members of departments to believe that they receive rewards for achieving different outcomes and may even conclude that they have incompatible goals. The social psychological perspective of social identity theory (Hogg & Terry, 2000; Tajfel & Turner, 1986) can help to explain how intergroup differentiation can result in perceived goal incompatibility even without concrete incompatible rewards. Social identity theory proposes that group membership gives members potentially important identity in organizations, which is sought to establish a positive differentiation through means of intergroup comparisons. The mere awareness of being a member of one department but not other departments creates perceptions that favor one’s own department and show affectively negative perceptions, attitudes and behaviors towards the out-department (Hogg & Terry, 2000; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). In summary, anecdotal and research evidence suggests the prevalence of interdepartmental rivalry within organizations (Alderfer & Smith, 1982; Lancioni, Schau, & Smith, 2005). One of the main sources of interdepartmental problems and conflicts comes from the perceived interdepartmental differences (Hogg & Terry, 2000; Ruyter & Wetzels, 2000; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Perceived interdepartmental goal incompatibility can very much reduce overall organizational effectiveness (Nauta et al., 2002). Organizational Identification as a Moderator
Given the potential costs of competitive goals between departments, it is important for organizations to manage the competitive goals of different departments. However, little research has identified conditions under which the negative effect of competitive goal interdependence on productive conflict outcomes between departments is attenuated. Recently, researchers have used social identity theory to explain the relationship between employees and their organizations and employee behaviors. Meanwhile, studies have illustrated the need for more contextual analyses of identity processes (Stryker, 2000), including competitive vs. cooperative intergroup interdependence as an important context (Ashmore et al., 2004). This study argues that a key motivator in helping employees from different departments engage in constructive controversy when they perceive different interdepartmental goal relationship, is the relationship individuals have with their employing organization. Organizational identification is a specific form of social identification where the individual perceives oneness with and belongingness to a particular organization (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Organizational identification reflects the cognitive connection employees have with their work organization and may help to prime them to think and act in ways that are supportive of organizational goals and interests (Pratt, 2000). Research has shown that organizational identification can influence employees’ productive work behavior, such as increased organization loyalty, job performance, organizational commitment, and decreased turnover intentions (Edwards & Peccei, 2010; Mael & Ashforth, 1995; Riketta, 2005). The primary underlying motives for individuals to identify with organizations are to fulfill their need for self-esteem and need for belongingness (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Millward & Postmes, 2010). The more employees conceive of themselves in terms of their membership in an organization, the more they identify with the organization, the more likely they act in accordance with the organization’s norms and values (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994; Umphress, Bingham, & Mitchell, 2010).
As characterized as “the essence” and distinctive characteristic of an organization (Aust, 2004; Meglino & Ravlin, 1998), organizational values are an important aspect of employee organizational identification because organizational values are the principles that members within an organization use as criteria for behavior (Scott, 2003). Organizational norms are also central to employee organizational identification as they are generalized rules and expectations that govern the behavior of organizational members (Scott, 2003). In an interdepartmental conflict setting, when employees from different departments perceive they have competitive interdepartmental goals, they will be motivated to compete for organizational resources rather than to work together for the organizational interest (Turner, 1975). However, employees who strongly identified with the organization will take each other as part of a larger in-group (Gaertner, Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman, & Rust, 1993) that shares the same organizational values and norms. Such an activation of a ‘we’ or an in-group identification provides employees from different departments with organization-oriented motivation and fosters them to be committed to organizational values and norms. Driven by such shared organizational values and norms, when confronting disagreement, employees from different departments are more likely to engage in constructive controversy with a purpose of seeking best solutions that benefit all people from different departments (Nemeth & Kwan, 1985; Johnson et al., 2006). Based on the above reasoning, we propose the following hypotheses. Hypothesis 4: An employee’s identification with the organization will moderate the relationship between competitive interdepartmental goal interdependence and constructive controversy, such that employees who identify strongly with the organization will be more likely to engage in constructive controversy than employees who identify weakly with the organization. Methods
Participants in this study included 129 employees who worked in different Chinese organizations in Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and Shenzhen in Mainland China. Participants were recruited from our personal networks and were chosen to represent diverse regions, business types, gender, age, and education level in Chinese organizations. Among all the 129 participants, 68 people were interviewed in Guangzhou, 36 people interviewed in Zhuhai, and 25 people interviewed in Shenzhen. 48.1% (62) of the participants were male with females 51.9% (67). Their average age was 27.3, with 20.9% (27) below 25 years old, 60.5% (78) between 25 and 30 years old, 17.8% (23) between 31 and 40 years old, and 0.8% (1) above 41 years old. With respect to education level, 6.2% (8) reported having a high school degree, 20.2% (26) of participants had a college degree, 60.5% (78) held university degrees, and 13.2% (17) held graduate degrees. Regarding the years worked in current organization, 15.5% (20) worked for less than 1 year, 48.8% (63) of the participants worked for 1 year to 3 years, 19.4% (25) worked for 3 years to 5 years, and 16.3% (21) worked for over 5 years. Of all the participants, 59.7% (77) were from privately-owned organizations, while 29.5% (38) and 10.9% (14) were from state-owned organizations and foreign-invested organizations, respectively. Interview Schedule
All the participants took part in this study in the form of interviews and were assured confidentiality. Each interview lasted for thirty minutes to one hour. The interview structure was developed by employing the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) (Flanagan, 1954). CIT is regarded as a useful technique to study complex interpersonal phenomena (Walker & Truly, 1992). Schwarz (1999) concluded CIT could help to moderate errors by making interviewees respond to one particular incident. In this study, each of the interviewees was asked to describe a concrete incident when they had
disagreement or other kind of conflict with their coworker from another department and it affected their role performance or their well-being. As the interview schedule was designed originally in English, bilingual scholars translated it into Chinese. To ensure conceptual consistency, a back translation technique (Douglas & Craig, 2007) was used to detect possible deviation (Brislin, 1970). The translators and back-translators met together to discuss the differences and developed the final Chinese version of the interview schedule. A pre-test was conducted to ensure that participants would understand the questions clearly. Measures
After they described the incident in detail, the interviewees were required to rate on specific scales based on the recalled incidents by using 5-point Likert scale, where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. Organizational identification. The six-item scale developed by Mael and Ashforth (1992) was used to measure organizational identification. Organizational identification measures an individual’s self-definition in terms of their membership in a particular organization (Mael & Ashforth, 1992). A sample item from the scale was “When I talk about this organization, I usually say ‘we’ rather than ‘they’”. The internal consistency alpha was .84. Goal interdependence. Goal interdependence indicated how employees perceived the relationship between their own department’s goals and those of their coworker’s department in the recalled conflict incident. It was measured with two five-item scales developed from previous studies based on Deutsch’s (1973) goal interdependence theory (Alper, Tjosvold, & Law, 1998), which included two subscales measuring cooperative goal and competitive goal. A sample item for the cooperative goals was “In this incident, the goals of two departments went together”. “In this incident, two departments structured things in ways that favored their own department goals rather than the goals of another department” was a sample item for the competitive goals. The coefficient alphas for the cooperative, and competitive goals scales were .90 and .78 respectively. Constructive controversy. Constructive controversy refers to employees from different departments engaging in the open-minded discussion of opposing views for mutual benefit in the recalled interdepartmental conflict incident in this study. Constructive controversy was measured with a five-item scale
developed from a set of experimental studies (Tjosvold, 1998) and questionnaire studies in North America (Alper et al., 1998). A sample item was “In this incident, my coworker and I expressed our views directly to each other”. Coefficient alpha of the scale was .85. Task accomplishment. This study adopted the items used by Tjosvold, Peng, Chen, and Su (2008) to measure the extent to which the interviewees’ interaction with their coworkers helped them to solve the problem effectively and efficiently in the recalled incident. A sample item was “My coworker and I accomplished the task efficiently because of this interaction”. This three-item scale had a Cronbach’s alpha reliability of .94. Quit intention. Quit intention indicated the extent to which subjects’ desire to leave their jobs in the recalled incident. Quit intention was measured by a scale composed of three items developed from Colarelli (1984). A sample item was “Because of this incident, I frequently think of quitting my job”. Coefficient alpha of the scale was .84. Future collaboration. Future collaboration was measured by the effectiveness of the interaction between employees from different departments on the likelihood of their future effective collaboration (Tjosvold et al., 2008). A sample item was “This interaction helped my coworker and I feel motivated to work with each other in the future”. This three-item scale had a reliability of .84. Scale Validation
As suggested by Anderson and Gerbing (1988), this study employed the two-step modeling method with the advantage of separating measurement issues from the estimation of causal effects among constructs (Kline, 2011). In the first step, a series of confirmatory factor analyses were conducted to establish whether the respondents’ ratings would load on organizational identification, cooperative goal, competitive goal, constructive controversy, task accomplishment, quit intention, and future collaboration, as distinct factors. This study compared the hypothesized 7-factor measurement model (M0) to three different 6-factor models (M1, M2, and M3), a 5-factor model (M4), a 4-factor model (M5) and the one-factor solution model (M6). These six alternative models were selected on the basis of inter-correlations among the seven variables and the logical possibility that each pair of adjacent variables in the model might not be conceptually distinct, and that instead of causal relations hips, the variables might
form a single factor. Results of the confirmatory factor analysis are shown in Table 1. All model fit statistics suggest that the baseline 7-factor model M0 shows good fit to the data, with the CFI, IFI, RMSEA, and χ2/df ratio of .98, .98, .05, and 1.26 respectively. The changes in chi-square were all significant for the six alternative models (M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, and M6). But the model fit statistics suggest that the six alternative models fit the data poorly. Therefore, the results suggested that the proposed seven factors were distinct measures of the constructs in the present study. ——————————
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Given an acceptable measurement model, the structural component of the hypothesized model was assessed in the second step. Overall goodness-of-fit indices suggested that the proposed fully mediated model fits the data very well. The Model χ2 and df of the hypothesized model were 248.4 and 200, with a χ2/df ratio of 1.24. And the CFI, IFI, and RMSEA of the proposed model were .97, .97, and .04 respectively. The results of the fit statistics suggest that the hypothesized structural model fits the data well.
Table 2 presents the means, standard deviations, and correlations for all variables in this study. The correlations lent initial support to the first set of hypotheses that constructive controversy was negatively related to quit intention (r = -.39, p < .01), whereas positively related to task accomplishment (r = .66, p < .01) and future collaboration (r = .56, p < .01). Consistent with the second set of hypotheses, cooperative goals were positively related to constructive controversy (r = .44, p < .01), while competitive goals were negatively related to constructive controversy (r = -.26, p < .01). ——————————
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Structural Equation Findings
We conducted a nested model test to compare the partially mediated, fully mediated (i.e., the hypothesized model) and the non-mediated models. Table 3 presents model fit statistics for the three competing models. The partially mediated models provided better fit to data than the non-mediated model, χ2 difference (3) = 52.2, p < .01, indicating the omission of parameters for constructive controversy’s mediating effect on outcomes will significantly deteriorate the model fit to the data. However, the inclusion of the parameters for the direct effect from exogenous variables to outcomes did not improve the model fit significantly, (i.e., the partially mediated model did not outperform the fully mediated model in the data fit), χ2 difference (12) = 8, ns. Therefore, based on the consideration of parsimony principle, the fully mediated model (i.e., the hypothesized model) was accepted. Hypothesis 3 proposes that constructive controversy mediates the relationship between goal interdependence and conflict outcomes. Therefore, hypothesis 3 is supported. ——————————
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The path coefficients of the accepted model explored the findings more specifically (Figure 1). Results indicate that constructive controversy was significantly positively related to task accomplishment (β = .91, p < .01), negatively to quit intention (β = -.50, p < .01), and positively to future collaboration (β = .78, p < .01). Hypotheses 1a, 1b, and 1c were supported. A significant and positive path coefficient was found from cooperative goals to constructive controversy (β = .45, p < .01), indicating that Hypothesis 2a was supported. The path coefficient from competitive goals to constructive controversy was negative (β = -.01, ns), but not statistically significantly so and therefore not supporting Hypotheses 2b. ——————————
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To test Hypothesis 3 that predicts an interactive effect of organizational identification with competitive goal, we followed Ping’s (1995) procedures in SEM to compute the interaction term. As shown in Figure 1, the
interaction of organizational identification with competitive goal significantly predicted constructive controversy (β = .18, p < .05). Besides, an insignificant and positive path coefficient was found from organizational identification to constructive controversy (β = .11, ns), suggesting that organizational identification had no main effect on constructive controversy. Thus, results support Hypothesis 4. We performed Aiken and West (1991) procedures to plot the shape of the significant interactions. Figure 2 depicts the interaction of organizational identification with competitive goals in predicting constructive controversy. While competitive goals were negatively and significantly associated with employees from different departments engaging in constructive controversy for employees who identify weakly with the organization, (simple slope = -.24, t = -1.69, p < .05), it was not significant for employees who identify strongly with the organization (simple slope = .21, t = 1.49, ns). Therefore the interaction is statistically significant and the pattern of results is consistent with Hypothesis 4. ——————————
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Summary of the Incidents
This study recorded 129 incidents from interviews. The incidents were classified as cooperative or competitive depending upon which goal interdependence had the highest ratings and their descriptions on the incidents. Among the 129 cases, 97 cases indicated cooperative interdepartmental goal interdependence and in which 82 cases reported high willingness to engage in constructive controversy with employees from other departments, according to the ratings on constructive controversy. The remaining 32 cases indicated competitive interdepartmental goal interdependence and in which 16 cases reported high willingness to engage in constructive controversy with employees from other departments. Case Illustrations
Drawing upon interviewees’ qualitative accounts and on their quantitative codings of their incidents, this study presents two cases respectively
representing cooperative goal and one competitive goal situations. Case A illustrates how perceived cooperative interdepartmental goal relationship can lead to constructive controversy among employees from different departments, and in turn lead to satisfactory task accomplishment, low intentions to quit and confidence for future collaboration. A female employee working in the human resources department of a large consulting firm in Guangzhou recalled an incident when she had a conflict with a male coworker from the marketing department. The human resources department needed to hire a graphic designer urgently for the marketing department due to business requirements. Due to the characteristics of the graphic designer position, she thought it would take a longer hiring cycle compared to other positions. However, the coworker from marketing department insisted they needed the graphic designer in two weeks, accusing her department of not wanting to cooperate with them. She was angry that she only got accusations from him, although she was the expert in hiring and she did her best on this task. They had a fierce wrangling with each other. The next day she calmed down and realized that the goals of two departments went together. She demonstrated the characteristics of the graphic designer position and the hiring status, asked him the status of their project, and told him that when she could hire the new employee as soon as possible. The coworker from marketing department expressed understanding and told her the status of their project and the real deadline for the task. Finally they tried to understand each other’s concerns and agreed a better deadline to hire the new graphic designer. Case B describes how perceived competitive interdepartmental goal relationship inhibited constructive controversy among employees from different departments that in turn resulted in unsatisfactory conflict outcomes in terms of low task accomplishment, high intentions to quit and less confidence for future collaboration. A female employee working in the sales department of a software technology company in Zhuhai described a recent conflict incident with a male coworker from the engineering and installation department. At the beginning of one project, she communicated the needs of the customer company to the engineer coworker after she approached the customer company and got their needs and requirement for the software. The engineer coworker was responsible for designing and pricing the software during negotiations with the customer in advance of a sale.
After receiving the project plan from the engineer coworker, she proposed the product design and provided estimates of cost and time during the conversations with the customer company. After the sale was concluded, the same coworker from engineering and installation department was responsible for the product design and software installation. The customer company began to test the software after the engineer coworker finished the installation. The customer company refused to sign the acceptance test form because the software did not meet one of their needs. But the engineer coworker did what the sales employee told him. The engineer coworker thought that the sales employee was not sufficiently clear when she initially communicated the needs of customers to him. She stated that the engineer coworker misunderstood her meaning although she was sufficiently accurate. Both of them did not want to take the responsibility and blamed the other because the company would punish the one who committed the mistake. At the end, the company decided to punish both of them. Both of them felt innocent and that they were unfairly punished. Discussion
The present research adds to our theoretical understanding of conflict management processes in organizations by integrating organizational identification and interdepartmental conflict management literatures. Correlational and structural equation results support the hypothesized model that interdepartmental goal interdependence is a significant predictor to employees between different departments engaging in constructive controversy and that constructive controversy in turn influences conflict outcomes. Results further support the theorizing that an employee’s identification with the organization moderates the association of competitive interdepartmental goal interdependence with constructive controversy. Previous studies have documented that constructive controversy can facilitate solving problems within teams and departments (Amason, 1996; De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008; Johnson et al., 2006; Tjosvold, 2008). This study contributes to our understanding of conflict management by supporting the contribution of constructive controversy to effective collaboration between departments within organizations. Examinations of goal interdependence (Deutsch, 1973) in conflict management have been conducted almost exclusively at the interpersonal level and have included less consideration
of goal interdependence at the inter-group level. In addition, previous studies have focused on identifying different ways to foster cooperative goals. Few studies have considered attenuating the negative effects of competitive goal interdependence, even though the perceived competitive goals between departments are prevalent in organizations (Chen & Tjosvold, 2012; John, 1991; Nauta et al., 2002). The study results support the moderating role of organizational identification on interdepartmental goal interdependence. Researchers have argued that social identity research needs to more fully consider intergroup relations and contextual analyses (Stryker, 2000; Van Knippenberg, 2003), including competitive and cooperative intergroup interdependence as important contextual variables (Ashmore at al., 2004). This study remedies this gap in the current research by empirically investigating the moderating effects of one aspect of social identity, organizational identification, on competitive interdepartmental interdependence. Organizational identification has been investigated as the main factor that influences employees’ behavior in organizations. The present study shows that organizational identification can work as a specific organizationally focused individual characteristic that can moderate the effects of goal interdependence. Limitations
Several limitations should be acknowledged for interpreting the results of this study. First, we used a cross-sectional design and a single method of data collection, which might inflate the relationships between goal interdependence, constructive controversy, and conflict outcomes, making drawing causal inferences problematic. Although previous studies have demonstrated that common method variance is often not strong enough to invalidate research findings (Doty & Glick, 1998), experimental and longitudinal designs with greater internal validity would directly address recall and other methodological weaknesses is needed for future research. A second limitation of this study is the reliance on same-source data; all the study variable assessments came from the employees. Although researchers have shown that it seems appropriate that employees assess these variables which pertain to their perceptions and responses (Bauer & Green, 1994), and self-reported data are not as limited as commonly expected (Spector, 1987), it would strengthen the findings if they could be replicated by using
assessments from other sources such as peers and supervisors. Furthermore, the specific single region (i.e. Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province) in which the research took place could limit the generalization of the research conclusions. Although the participants in this study are working in different Chinese organizations, due to different regional culture characteristics, our findings may not be applicable in other Chinese regions or other countries. Future research should examine the contextuality and potential cross-cultural differences to enhance external validity of the study. The sample size in this study is relatively small. To maximize the chances of detecting significant interaction effect of organizational identification and competitive goal interdependence and the total effect (i.e. the amount of variance explained by the goal interdependence, organizational identification, constructive controversy, and conflict outcomes), a larger sample size would be useful. Thus, the future research needs a relatively large sample to enhance the validation and generalization of the findings. Implications and Directions for Future Research
In addition to the future research implications through addressing the method limitations, this study has additional implications and directions for future research. This study focused on individual interviews to discover their perceptions of goal interdependence between departments in the recalled conflict incident; while goal interdependence refers to the goal relationship between the people in interaction in most previous studies. A suggestion for future study would be to introduce both perceptions of interpersonal goal interdependence and perceptions of interdepartmental goal interdependence into the recalled conflict incident interviews that when employees from different department in the organization have a conflict with each other. This could help further illuminate the differences and the linkage between perceptions of interpersonal goal interdependence and perceptions of interdepartmental goal interdependence in affecting conflict management. The current study was limited to organizational identification as a moderator. Using the similar methods, further studies could investigate other possible moderators or a combination of moderators to study the influence of individual differences on conflict management from a broader
perspective. For example, one potential moderator is social value orientation. People with high social value orientation have a high concern for their own outcomes but also for the outcomes of interdependent others (Messick & McClintock, 1968). It is likely that under competitive interdepartmental goals, employees with high social value orientation will be more sensitive to develop constructive controversy that leads to the productive conflict outcomes. Practical Implications
The findings, if they can be replicated, have important practical implications for effective collaboration between departments in organizations. The results imply that cooperative goal interdependence between departments plays a prominent role in leading to effective interdepartmental collaboration through constructive controversy. In addition to cooperatively related goals, employees from different departments can also perceive interdepartmental competitive goals that make collaboration ineffective. However, the study also detected that competitive goal interdependence between departments may lead to effective collaboration through constructive controversy with strong employee organizational identification. Results were interpreted as suggesting that organizational identification is an important foundation for effective collaboration between departments in organizations. Even if employees from different departments perceive interdepartmental competitive goals, they may still tend to engage in constructive controversy that leads to effective collaboration by the influence of strong organizational identification. Managers may try to identify different ways to strengthen employee organizational identification. For example, they can emphasize that the organization promotes employee values and that employees are part of a rewarding, cohesive community (Hunt & Morgan, 1994). Conclusion
This study supports that cooperative, but not competitive goals between departments induce constructive controversy dynamics among employees from different departments that in turn result in organizational task accomplishment, employee commitment to the organization, and confidence in working together in the future. Results further indicate that organizational identification moderated the association of competitive goal interdependence
with constructive controversy such that the negative association was weaker with higher organizational identification. Results underline the positive role of cooperative interdepartmental goals and employee organizational identification in conflict management between departments.
An earlier version of this article has been presented at the Academy of Management 2013 Meeting, Orlando, August 9-13. Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. References
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Baseline 7-factor Model (M0)168211.0-.98.98.05
Combined organizational identification and cooperative goal interdependence (M1)174344.5133.5**.90.90.09 Combined task accomplishment and future collaboration(M2)174390179**.88.88.10 Combined cooperative goal and competitive goal(M3)174269.058**.95.95.07 Combined cooperative goal, competitive goal, and organizational identification (M4)179401.4190.4**.87.87.10 Combined cooperative goal, competitive goal, organizational identification, and constructive controversy (M5)183566.3355.3**.78.78.13 One factor solution (M6)1891054.9843.9**.50.51.19
Note. N = 129; In the one-factor Model (M6), all the seven factors were combined into one factor. **p < .01; *p < .05
Table 2. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations for All Variables VariablesMeanS D1234567
2. Cooperative goal184.108.40.206**(.90)
3. Competitive goal2.65.72-.24**-.51**(.78)
4.Constructive controversy220.127.116.11**.44**-.26**(.85) 5.Task accomplishment18.104.22.168*.45**-.20*.66**(.94) 6. Quit intention2.21.73-.20*-.27**.16-.39**-.35**(.84) 7.Future collaboration22.214.171.124*.45**-.25**.56**.60**-.32**(.84)
Note. N = 129 cases for all variables. Coefficient alphas appear on the diagonal for multi-item scales. *p < .05; **p < .01
Table 3. Results of Model Comparison Analyses
1.Partially mediated model (Ma)240.4188-126.96.36.199.05 2.Fully mediated model (Mo)248.420081.24.97.97.04
3.Non-mediated model (Mb)292.619152.2**188.8.131.52.06
Note. N = 129
**p < .01; *p < .05
Figure 1. Path estimates for the hypothesized structural model
Note. N = 129; **p < .01; *p < .05
Figure 2. Moderating effects of organization identification on the competitive goal-constructive controversy relationship