Things Are Not Always What They Seem: The Origins and Evolution of Intragroup Conflict*

Priti Pradhan Shah, Randall S. Peterson, Stephen L. Jones, Amanda J. Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Teams scholars have historically conceptualized and measured intragroup conflict at the team level. But emerging evidence suggests that perceptions of intragroup conflict are often not uniform, shared, or static. These findings suggest important questions about the microfoundations of intragroup conflict: Where does conflict within teams originate? And how does it evolve over time? We address these and other questions in three abductive studies. We consider four origination points—an individual, dyad, subgroup, or team—and three evolutionary trajectories—conflict continuity, contagion, and concentration. Study 1, a qualitative study of narrative accounts, and Study 2, a longitudinal social networks study of student teams, reveal that fewer than 30 percent of teams experience team-level conflict. Instead, conflict more commonly originates and persists at individual, dyadic, or subgroup levels. Study 2 further demonstrates that traditional psychometric intragroup conflict scales mask the existence of these various origins and trajectories of conflict. Study 3, a field study of manufacturing teams, reveals that individual and dyadic task conflict origins positively predict team performance, whereas traditional intragroup task conflict measures negatively predict team performance. The results raise serious concerns about current methods and theory in the team conflict literature and suggest that researchers must go beyond team-level conceptualizations of conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-474
Number of pages49
JournalAdministrative science quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

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© The Author(s) 2020.


  • dyadic conflict
  • intragroup conflict
  • subgroups
  • temporal dynamics


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