Dr. Anthony HoodThere may be a dark side to workplace friendships, especially when disagreements occur, according to a study led by Anthony C. Hood, Ph.D., and co-written by Kevin S. Cruz, Ph.D., and Daniel G. Bachrach, Ph.D.

Hood is an associate professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business. Published in the Journal of Business and Psychology in 2017, “Conflicts with Friends: A Multiplex View of Friendship and Conflict and Its Association with Performance in Teams” was deemed one of the 10 best papers published in the journal that year.

Hood, who is the director of Civic Innovation in the Office of the President at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that, since its publication, the study has gained momentum. It has been cited in some of the top journals in the field, including the Harvard Business Review, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review and Human Resource Management Review.

The research focuses on a lesser studied aspect of workplace teams — multiplexity, or the presence of two or more types of relationships between the members of a team. Next door neighbors may be co-workers. A mother and daughter may launch a startup. Best friends may sign up for the same course. This type of relational closeness is usually great for teamwork, until disagreements arise in the relationship.

Hood’s study focused on two types of conflict that frequently occur in interprofessional teams — task and relationship conflict. Task conflicts stem from differences of opinion associated with work-related activities, such as strategic decision-making and creative problem solving. Relationship conflicts are interpersonal tensions that can be triggered by differences in personality, values or personal preferences.

Hood says it is important to recognize that not all conflicts are bad. Task conflicts can support innovative decision-making and complex problem-solving by encouraging employees to integrate their diverse expertise, make novel associations, acknowledge biases, recognize blind spots, generate a broader range of potential solutions and avoid groupthink.

Relationship conflicts on the other hand are generally unproductive and ultimately lead to negative outcomes, such as employee stress and turnover. The key to sparking innovation lies in the delicate balance of promoting healthy levels of task-focused conflict, without inadvertently triggering relationship conflicts in the process.

Study mechanics

Data were collected from 120 four-person teams over the course of four months.

Hood and his colleagues found that relationship conflicts occurring among team members who were friends negatively impacted team performance, whereas those occurring between non-friends positively impacted team performance. They reasoned that conflicts are already difficult enough to manage. However, when conflicts arise between people in multiplex relationships, particularly those working in interprofessional teams, the emotional intensity of the personal relationship can amplify disagreements, drain resources, and ultimately jeopardize personal and professional outcomes.

The findings led Hood to coin the term “multiplex conflict.” He has begun to develop a theoretical framework to support and encourage continued scholarship in the area, including a follow-up study on conflicts in advice-seeking relationships that he and a different set of colleagues published later that year. He also frequently shares information on multiplex conflict and other subjects related to effective teamwork through his LinkedIn page using the hashtag #multiplexconflict.

Hood has been invited to share his research with leaders at companies including Alabama Power, Regions Bank, and Brasfield & Gorrie. He has also presented this research to hundreds of scientists, health care professionals and trainees on campus and at UAB Hospital through his prior work as the lead Science of Team Science (SciTS) trainer for UAB’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

“I have been pleased with the response,” Hood said. “I have worked in interprofessional teams my entire career, so I know how to translate this admittedly dense academic material in a way that is accessible to anyone regardless of their background or experience.”

Prior to academia, Hood worked as an engineer in multiple large interdisciplinary teams at BellSouth and AT&T.

Hood recommends that supervisors regularly conduct quantitative and qualitative surveys to measure and keep track of the presence and intensity of multiplex conflicts in their teams.

“You can’t control what you don’t measure,” Hood said. “Without this data, leaders operate blindly. Consequently, it will be difficult for them to prescribe and implement the types of targeted interventions necessary to promote the types of healthy relationships that enable high-performance interprofessional teamwork.”

To learn more about this study, visit http://www.anthonychood.com/multiplexconflict or follow Hood at www.linkedin.com/in/anthonychood.


Written by: Maegan Royal