The Effect of Conflict and Knowledge Sharing on the Information Technology Project Team Performance

The Effect of Conflict and Knowledge Sharing on the Information Technology Project Team Performance

Barbara Hewitt (Texas State University, Marcos, USA), Diane B. Walz (University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, USA) and Alexander McLeod (Texas State Univerity, Marcos, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJKM.2020010101
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The existent literature lacks papers that explored the proposed model, which examines how process, relationship, and task conflict impacts knowledge sharing and the subsequently perceived team performance in the information technology (IT) development process. The proposed research model adds knowledge sharing to prior studies that explored how the types of conflict impacted team performance. The hypotheses were tested using a field survey, which was distributed to IT project team members. While team members who experience task conflicts tend to share more knowledge and perform better, members who experience more process or relationship conflicts are less likely to share knowledge, and the team performance is also impacted. The results offer insights to explain how the different types of conflict can affect knowledge sharing and subsequently group processes within IT project teams and, ultimately, improve or degrade performance.
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From 1994 to 2016, the number of challenged or failed information technology (IT) projects decreased from 83% to under 72% (Standish Group, 1994, 2016; Florentine, 2017). While the number of failed IT projects is decreasing, the costs for failed IT projects are still staggering with $97 million lost for every billion dollars spent on projects in 2016, down from $122 million in 2015 (Florentine, 2017). These findings make it imperative to identify ways to make IT project teams more productive and IT projects more successful.

Xia and Lee (2004); Whitney and Daniels (2013) suggest that a major reason why IT projects fail stems from the complexity of the projects. Walz, Elam, and Curtis (1993) observed an IT project team, where knowledge and expertise were distributed heterogeneously among team members and the exchange of knowledge within the team was critical to project success. In a qualitative study observing the conflict that occurred between users and designers during five information system development (ISD), Walz, Elam, Krasner, and Curtis (1987) noted that, initially, individual team members possessed widely different mental models of the problems and relevant solutions. Thus, often teams are comprised of individuals from a variety of roles, including IT personnel, users, stakeholders, and domain expert consultants, both internal and external to the team and organization, and across different communication networks and different time zones who are required to productively work together on these large complex IT projects. The team members cannot work independently and simply assemble the pieces developed by everyone individually. IT project teams differ significantly from homogeneous work teams such as departmental work groups and strategic management teams in that they must share knowledge. In fact, Jiang, Flores, Leelawong, and Manz (2016); Endres and Chowdhury (2019) discuss the importance of knowledge sharing for team performance. For teams to perform well, heterogeneous team members, representing a variety of knowledge domains, must engage in indivisible project related activities and share knowledge amongst themselves.

According to Panteli and Sockalingam (2005), task related to behaviors often elicit debate, exchange of ideas and share task-related knowledge. Thus, these team members must perform some dialectical process to share knowledge (Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000; Sawyer, 2004; Jones, 2005; Faraj & Sambamurthy, 2006; Robillard & Lavallée, 2012). Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (2014) suggest that, for teams working on complex IT projects, this disagreement or conflict occurs naturally during the dialectic process.

Walz et al. (1987) observed team members offering conflicting opinions and views of the project and concluded that knowledge sharing is an essential element necessary for ISD project success. The study supports claims that a) ISD team members need to share knowledge to complete a project successfully, and b) conflict can be an essential tool for knowledge sharing in an ISD project. However, they did not distinguish between different types of conflict in their observations or provide information on the impact on that conflict on knowledge sharing or team performance.

In a series of publications exploring the relationship between conflict and team performance, Jehn (1992, 1995, 1997, 1999); Jehn and Mannix (2001); Jehn and Bendersky (2003); Jehn, Greer, Levine, and Szulanski (2008); de Wit, Greer, and Jehn (2012) concluded that task conflict is beneficial to performance, but that relationship conflict and process conflict are detrimental. For example, Jehn (1995) introduced process conflict as intragroup conflict that occurs when team members disagree about the approach to performing the task or project. In fact, process conflict occurs when a team member disagrees about assigned tasks and group processes. In a meta-analysis, de Wit et al. (2012) located only a few studies exploring the impact of process conflict on team performance, and those studies show process conflict negatively affects group performance.

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