Network determinants of conflict in business organization

Lizaveta Charnenka


Essentially all forms of organizational conflict have negative effects on team performance. Understanding the reasons behind its emergence is thus of tremendous importance for Organization Management. So far researchers of conflict within the organization studies domain mainly focused on group or individual level of analysis. However, taking no account of the multilevel and interconnected nature of the social structure of an organization reduces research opportunities to a rather descriptive and superficial level. Motivated by these considerations I focused the study on the factors of conflict in organization rooted in its network structure. More specifically, the object of this study is task conflict, defined as conflict focused around the task at hand and caused by differences in viewpoints, ideas, and opinions of group members. Contributing to the incipient stream of literature on intragroup conflict based on Organizational Network Analysis, this paper aims to link together network approach and conflict management theory by testing the multifaceted model of task conflict on the original dataset, collected in the international organization. The data were collected by the author via an online questionnaire, filled by the employees of an industrial business organization, operating in Belarus, Poland and Russia in three waves (December 2017, December 2018 and December 2019). Network data are based on employees’ nominations in response to questions on different working interactions, including reporting relationships, asking for advice, task conflicts, and prioritization attitudes. The resulting networks are middle size (739 employees in 2017, 865 in 2018; 991 in 2019) directed graphs with no loops, weighted by the frequency of interactions. The data available also include employees’ position, department affiliation, seniority, peer-evaluated competences, social skills as well as demographics such as age and gender. The model is built to test the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 1. Asymmetric perception of working relationships (H1-A: subordination roles perception; H1-B: priority perception of working relationships) is associated with a higher risk of task conflict. Hypothesis 2. Employees overwhelmed by the number of working interactions (H2-A: number of direct and indirect bosses; H2-B: overall number of working interactions) are more prone to task conflict. Hypothesis 3. The level of social skills of both participants of interaction is negatively associated with the rate of task conflict. Hypothesis 4. The level of professional competences of an employee is negatively associated with the risk of task conflict with her/him. Hypothesis 5. Burt’ constraint, a measure deemed to capture the notion of social capital, is positively associated with the rate of task conflict. I test the presented set of hypotheses using Exponential Random Graph Model (ERGM) on conflict relationships network. For exploratory purposes, I further try longitudinal network analysis using SIENA estimation to see how conflict evolves over time. The preliminary results proved to partially confirm all of the five stated hypotheses but also revealed a set of interesting empirical facts. The data are currently being processed. The results of the tests and exploratory analysis will be proposed for discussion in the conference.

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