Conflict in medical teams: Opportunity or danger?
Objectives Intragroup conflicts often occur when people are called upon to collaborate in the accomplishment of a task. For example, when surgeons and nurses work together during an operation, conflicts may emerge because of differences in functional understanding. Whether these conflicts are beneficial or detrimental to team outcomes has been the source of much debate. From one perspective, a conflict that stems from differences in members' functional understanding may enhance team members' understanding and performance of the task at hand. By contrast, such a conflict may cause hostility, emotionality and distraction from actual task accomplishment. Methods This study reviews findings on the relationships between intragroup conflict and team outcomes, discusses potential conflict resolution strategies for intragroup conflicts and explores how these link to the field of medical education. Results Three primary types of conflict have been distinguished, involving, respectively, task-, process- and relationship-associated conflict. Both process conflict, or conflict about the logistics of task accomplishment, and relationship conflict, or conflict about interpersonal incompatibilities, have been shown to detract from effective team functioning. Task conflict, or conflict about the content of the task itself, is also generally negative for team functioning, but under certain conditions its negative effects may be minimised. For example, when teams can clearly separate task issues from relationship issues, task conflicts are less destructive for team outcomes. However, achieving such a separation in practice, and thereby realising the benefits of task conflict, is quite difficult to achieve. Conclusions Intragroup conflicts pose a challenge to effective team functioning. In the education of medical professionals, effective training in conflict management skills and their application to specific team conflict dynamics, such as with reference to how to resolve task as opposed to relationship conflict, is critical.