Virtuality and Media Synchronicity: Their Effects on Conflict in Virtual Teams

Patricia Holahan
Stevens Institute of Technology – School of Business

Ann C. Mooney
Stevens Institute of Technology – School of Business

Roger C. Mayer
University of Akron

Laura Finnerty Paul
Stevens Institute of Technology – School of Business

January 27, 2014

Howe School Research Paper No. 2014-27


Past research has provided evidence that teams who are able to gain the benefits of the task conflict but avoid the pitfalls of relationship conflict should perform better than they would if they let relationship conflict occur. The problem is that task conflict has a tendency to trigger relationship conflict, making it difficult for teams to gain the benefits of task conflict without also incurring the costs of relationship conflict. Researchers have offered mechanisms by which teams can keep conflict task oriented, but this research has been focused on face-to-face, non-virtual teams. Little is still known about how task and relationship conflict can be managed in a virtual environment.

In this paper, we argue that virtuality influences the relationship between task and relationship conflict by the manner in which it relates to two factors – trust and behavioral integration. Based largely on social influence processes, we hypothesize that when teams communicate more virtually (e.g., use ICTs that are less rich and more asynchronous), it is more difficult for them to develop trustworthiness (and therefore trust) and behavioral integration. Lacking trust and behavioral integration, virtual teams should then be more likely to make misattributions about task conflict, which leads to greater relationship conflict. In other words, we propose that virtuality makes managing task and relationship conflict even more difficult. This effect, however, we argue can be avoided when teams have strong experience with the media and with working together.

Virtuality and Media Synchronicity- Their Effects on Conflict in Virtual Teams

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