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Conflicts and sales information transmission across functional boundaries.

INTRODUCTION

Conflict--that is, awareness on the part of the parties involved of discrepancies, incompatible wishes, or irreconcilable desires (Boulding, 1963) unavoidably occurs in situations in which people depend on each other. Many conflict studies have shown that firms are more successful when they manage their conflicts (Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Dreu, 2006; Jehn,1995; Matsuo,2006; Schmidt & Kochan,1972). Some authors have examined conflict's negative function, which is to negatively affect innovativeness, effective communication, and information sharing within organizations by breaking up members' concentration (Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Matuo, 2006). In contrast, conflict can activate members' discussion about tasks by increasing motivation to solve problems (Amason, 1996). Therefore, monitoring the characteristics of conflict is crucial for managers (Matuo, 2006), but this characteristic of conflict has been monitored only in relationships between one group's members.

In addition, although some empirical studies have investigated intra-group conflicts and cross-functional conflicts, they have not yet examined the relationship between cross-functional conflict and intra-group conflict. In the real world, however, we work not only with intra-group members, but also with inter-functional group members. For example, in Japanese industrial companies, a salespeople visits a customer with an engineer, whose role is to offer technical support to the customer. In this situation, members have contact with intra-group and inter-functional members at the same time, so we can predict that members' intra- group conflict would affect the inter-functional relationship.

Furthermore, salespeople manage conflicts, when they are charged with transmitting sales information as boundary spanners (Aldrich & Herker,1977; Tushman & Scanilan,1981). A salespeople's transmission of sales information to an engineer is a form of communication (Dawes & Massey, 2005; Morgan & Piercy, 1998). Communication is a very important tool for managing conflict (Dawes & Massey, 2005). On the other hands, some research findings have reported that conflict occurs because of frequent communication (Hunter & Geobel, 2008). In this manner, although some studies have investigated the relationship between sales transmission and conflict (e.g., Hunter & Geobel, 2008; Maltz & Kohli, 1996), thus far, no consensus has been arrived at on the nature of this relationship.

This study explores two relationships, first, how intra-group conflict affects interfunctional conflict, and second, how information transmission frequency can moderate this relationship, by examining conflict involving sales people in Japanese firms.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Intra- Group Conflict & Cross-functional Conflict

Previous research has examined two conflict relationships within companies. One conflict relationship is between two peoples who have same task and same purpose in one group, like sales people (intra-group conflict). The other conflict relationship is between two people who have different task and purpose, like a salespeople and an engineer (inter-functional conflict). In the following sections, we define these two conflict relationships and introduce the characteristics of each form of conflict.

Intra-Group Conflict

According to previous intra group conflict studies, three types of conflicts can be identified: task conflict, relationship conflict, and process conflict (Jehn et al, 1999; Jehn & Bendersky, 2003; Jehn & Mannix, 2001).

Task conflict can be defined as an awareness of differences in viewpoints and opinion pertaining to a group task (Amason, 1996; Schwenk, 1990). It is related to conflicts about ideas, and to differences in opinion about the task. Amason (1996) examined members of top management teams and reported a positive relationship between task conflict and communication and information sharing. When task conflict occurred, members became more active in the task, members doing more communication had more clearly defined problems. In addition, Lovelace et al (2001) found that task conflict positively affected the performance of teams when members could freely communicate their doubts about task. Dreu & Weingart (2003) pointed out that a moderate amount of task conflict increases members' power of concentration. Matuo (2006) explained that the reason behind task conflict's positive effect is that it (a) makes members more receptive to new information, (b) fosters a deeper understanding of task issues, (c) increases the range of alternatives considered, (d) motivates assumption questioning, and (e) allows assumptions and recommendations to be evaluated systematically.

Process conflict is an awareness of controversy with respect to how tasks will be accomplished (Jehn & Mannix, 2001). This type of conflict involves issues of duty and resource delegation. Jehn & Mannix (2001) found that when a group argues about who should do what, the conflict leaves members dissatisfied with the uncertainty, and misdirects their focus to irrelevant discussions of members' ability. Moreover, Matsuo (2006) examined Japanese sales departments, and reported that process conflict negatively affects to departmental innovativeness. Jehn (1997) and Jehn et al (1999) also viewed process conflict as having a negative impact on group performance.

Finally, relationship conflict is the awareness of interpersonal incompatibilities including affective components such as the experience of tension and friction (Amason & Sapienza, 1997). Matuo (2006) claimed that relationship conflict has negative association with an organization's innovativeness. Amason & Sapienza (1997) found that open teams experience less relationship conflict than closed teams. Jehn (1995) reported that when relationship conflict is strong, members' task satisfaction is low. Furthermore, Amason (1996) found that relationship conflict negatively affects the quality of group decisions, commitment to decisions, and acceptance of decisions on the part of group members. Matsuo (2006) pointed out that the rationale behind this negative function is that relationship conflict makes members anxious and inhibits cognitive functioning. It also makes members less receptive to the ideas of other group members.

Previous empirical studies have reported that relationship conflict and process conflict have a negative impact, while task conflict has a positive impact on group performance (Amason, 1996; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Pelled et al., 1999). Moreover, these three types of conflicts negatively affect an individuals' satisfaction with and commitment to an organization (Jehn & Bendersky, 2003). The relationship between the three types of conflict and performance, satisfaction of members, and communication between members is illustrated in Figure.1.

Previous research studies on cross-functional conflicts have been unable to find a common conflict type. Xie et al. (2003) conceptualized cross-functional conflict as a goal incongruity. They found that goal incongruity reduces the quality of information between cross-functional staff. Crittenden et al. (1993) reported based on interview research that conflict arise when each functional group has different objectives, negatively affects performance. Maltz & Kohli (2000) used MIC (Manifest inter-functional conflict) concept as a conflict. MIC is defined as the degree to which a member in one functional group behaves in way that frustrates another functional group. According to this research, MIC occurs when uncertainty is strong in an organization. They explain that member use MIC for resolve uncertainty. A survey of Japanese firms, Song & Parry (1997) found that performance is lower when a company has strong conflict between managers. Previous empirical research has discussed cross-functional conflict as a common form of negative conflict.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Cross-functional Conflict

As mentioned above, the studies on conflicts within organizations have highlighted two problems, which are addressed in this study. One problem is that, for cross-functional conflict, the results are inconsistent with previous research, which reports a negative relationship with performance. However, many studies also insist that conflict has a positive function, for example, task conflict benefits group performance (Dechurch & Marks, 2001; Jehn & Mannix,2001). This study therefore identifies three type of inter-functional conflict as for intragroup conflict, to explore the positive function of conflict on cross-functional relationships. Another problem is that few empirical studies have examined the relationship between intragroup conflict and cross-functional conflict. Therefore, this study explores the impact of the relationship between intra-group conflict and inter-functional conflict. In the following chapter, I will explain how intra-group conflict relates to inter-functional conflict using triangulation theory.

This study examines conflicts involving salespeople in order to determine the relationship between intra-group conflict and inter-functional conflict. There are two reasons for using salespeople as the basis of this study. First, salespeople, as boundary spanners, play critical roles in the delivery of information to cross functional team members (Aldrich & Herker, 1977; Matuo, 2006; Tushman & Scanilan, 1981) ; therefore, they can be involved two types of conflicts (intra-group conflict and cross-functional conflict) at once . Second, salespeople perceive strong conflict compared with other functional members, so as salespeople face a competitive situation in terms of sales performance (Matsuo, 2002).

Triangulating Conflict Relationships within a Company

How can intra-organizational conflict relate to inter-functional conflict ? We use triangulation theory to find an answer to this question.

Thomas (1978) mentioned that conflict occurs not only in dyad relationships but also in triad relationships. Bowen (1978) insisted that conflict can transfer to other relationships. Smith (1989), who studied about the movement of conflict within organizations, analyzed. Bowen's (1978) theory as follows:
   [He based this on the observation that whenever tension emerges in
   the relationship between two parties(X and Y), there is a tendency
   for one of them (say X) to draw a third party(A) into the
   encounter, forming a triangle with one insider pair(X-A) and
   isolating Y form the original bond with X. The pairing strengthens
   X but puts Y into a comparatively powerless position, destabilizing
   the original X-Y relationship.

   Y may retaliate by trying to break the X-A bond, either to
   reconnect with X or alternatively to link up with A, isolating X in
   a kind of "payback" for abandoning Y in the first place. Y's
   actions are likely to provoke a counteraction from X, triggering a
   protracted cyclical struggle that results in a being made into a
   pawn of X-Y's interactions. This is referred to as primary
   triangulation. Another option for Y, in the face of the triangle
   created by X's bonding with A, is to pull in another outside party
   (B) and build a (Y-B) coalition as a counter to X-A's power. This
   may be described as secondary triangulation.]


Bowen's (1978) theory indicates that one conflict occurring in dyad relationship can move to another relationship either positively or negatively. In addition, Proudford and Smith(2003) distinguished two cases. In one case, the third party is heterogeneous; in the other, the third party is homogeneous. Proudford and Smith(2003) mentioned that , if the positive relationship is between the two parties that share group membership (X and Y), conflict will not move to the other relationship. However, if the negative relationship is between the two parties that share group membership (X and Y), conflict will move to other relationship (X and A or Y and A). Alderf & Smith(1982) suggested that people place priority on creating group membership with homogeneous people. Therefore, people will creating a positive relationship with homogeneous people and only when they fail to create relationship with a homogeneous people, will they start creating a positive relationship with a heterogeneous people. It follows, then, that if two homogeneous parties have conflict, it will be affect other relationship.

Conflict and Information Transmission

Salespeople manages relationships, and transmit information to other functional team members as boundary spanners. Much research has discussed the fact that transmission of information or communication can occur conflict relationships. Maltz & Kohli (1996) demonstrated that when market intelligence is disseminated very often, a receiver's perceived intelligence quality is decreased. Dawes & Massey (2005) found that communication frequency positively affects the level of interpersonal conflict between a sales manager and a marketing manager. However, as communication bidirectionality increases, conflict between the sales manager and the marketing manager is decreases. Therefore, Dawes & Massey (2005) suggested that communication's frequency is not as important for decreasing conflict as type of communication. According to this research, as transmission of information and communication frequency increases, conflict also increases. Therefore, to improve positive relationships, effective communication is more important than communication frequency. In addition, Hunter & Geobel (2008) insisted that the receiver perceives information overload when the sender gives out information very often.

Why does conflict occur when different functional team members communicate? Overall, it is because they have a different way of understanding information and purpose. They are making decisions based on their individual criteria for judgment, while the gaps between different functional members are more serious when they have frequent communication (Daugherty, 1992; Kawakami, 2004). Therefore, when every different functional member has his or her own method of decision-making, frequent information transmission creates more opportunities for conflict.

HYPOTHESES

Figure 2 presents a conceptualization of the conflict relationship in light of this research's discussions regarding the condition of a company. Most industrial companies in Japan, engineers accompany salespeople when they visit customers.

Proudford & Smith (2003) insisted that when a tension filled relationship is formed between homogeneous group members, conflict relates to other heterogeneous relationships. However, task conflict refers to disagreement over opinions and ideas about the task, which has a positive effect on performance (Amason, 1996). By contrast, process conflict and relationship conflict have negative functions (Jehn et al., 1995; Jehn & Bendersky,2003). Therefore, movement of conflict is confirmed when process conflict and relationship conflict exist between salespeople.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

When salespeople have strong process or relationship conflict, sharing information and communicating with other salespeople will become difficult. Therefore, to get valuable information, salespeople will create a relationship with engineering. A salespeople who wants to create a relationship with an engineer is expected to disseminate sales information frequently. The salespeople who transmit information frequently will expect the engineer to refer to the sales information he or she gave. However, the engineer has a different purpose and will understand information differently (Daugherty, 1992). Therefore, when the salespeople transmits sales information to the engineer too often, the engineer perceives information overloaded (Hunter &Geobel,2008) . Therefore, conflict occurs because of information dissemination. Thus, the following hypotheses are proposed;

H1: When Salespeople perceive strong process conflict, the salespeople who transmits information relatively more often, will have relatively stronger a) task, b) process, and c) relationship conflicts with the engineer.

H2: When salespeople perceive strong relationship conflict, the salespeople who transmits information relatively more often, will have relatively stronger a) task, b) process, and c) relationship conflicts with the engineer.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

METHODOLOGY

Sample

The population examined in this study consisted of sales people at industrial company in Japan. Industrial company was chosen because in this company, salespeople accompany with an engineer when they visit customer. Japanese industrial salespeople have many tasks like gathering information about customers' needs and managing relationships with customers. To best perform these tasks, salespeople accompany with engineers to visit customers.

A sample of 94 salespeople was drawn from one Japanese industrial company. A questionnaire entitled "Survey of cooperation and conflict in the company," with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey, was e-mailed to the salespeople. Two weeks later, 94 questionnaires were returned.

Measures

Multiple-item scales were developed based on items previously proposed in survey research studies. The scale items were translated form English to Japanese, and checked by a bilingual marketing researcher who did not know the purpose of this study. The correlations among the variables are shown in Table 1.

Conflict was accessed using nine items (Jehn & Mannix, 2001) and a 5-point scale. Information transmission was measured using one items (Dawes & Massy, 2005) and a 5-point scale. Each values made by using principle factor method with promax rotation.

RESULTS

A two-way ANOVA was conducted to test the proposed research model because a two-way ANOVA allows us to examine multiple relationships simultaneously and value's moderate role. Table 2 presents the estimated model.

The estimation of the hypothesized model results shows that, H1-b is supported (F=3.001, p<10). When salespeople perceive strong process conflict, the salespeople who transmits information relatively more often will have relatively stronger process conflicts with the engineer. This relationship is presented in Figure 4.

When salespeople perceive strong relationship conflict, the salespeople transmits information relatively more often, will have relatively stronger relationship conflict with the engineer (F=11.41, p<.001). Therefore, H2-c is supported. This relationship presented in Figure 3.

In addition, H2-b's main effect is supported, indicating that information transmission increases process conflict between salespeople and engineers (F = 3.968, p<.05). However, the effect of process conflict between salespeople and their transmission of task conflict (F = .059,ns) and relationship conflict(F = -1.348, ns) between salespeople and engineer was not significant. Therefore, H1 a) and H1 c) are not supported. Also, the effect of relationship conflict between salespeople and their transmission of task conflict (F = 1.91, ns) and process conflict (F = 1.853, ns) between salespeople and engineer was not significant. Therefore, H2 a) and H2 b) are not supported.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

DISCUSSION

The main purpose of this study was to examine how conflict between salespeople affects conflict between a salespeople and an engineer and how the salespeople's behavior of information transmission moderates this relationship. Although there are a lot of researches about each conflict relationship (between homogeneous and heterogeneous group members), the relationship between intra-group conflict and cross-functional conflict has been not discussed.

This study found that (1) process conflict between salespeople was positively related to process conflict between a salespeople and an engineer; (2) when relationship perceive relationship conflict, the salespeople who transmit sales information relatively more often will have relatively stronger relationship conflict with the engineer ; (3) when salespeople perceive strong process conflict, the salespeople who transmits information relatively more often will have relatively stronger process conflict with the engineer; and (4) a salespeople's information transmission positively affects process conflict between that salespeople and engineers.

The theoretical contribution of this study to the marketing literature can be summarized as follows. First, it clarified the relationships of different types of conflict by linking intra-organizational conflict to inter-functional conflict. Each relationship has been identified by a number of researchers (Amason & Sapienza, 1997; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jehn et al., 1999; Song & Parry, 1997) , but they have not examined the relationship between the two types of conflict. Although this study did not find all types of conflict to be related, it is clear that process conflict between salespeople increases conflict between a salespeople and an engineer. One explanation of this finding is that process conflict provides an opportunity to solve a problem. Perhaps when salespeople has process conflict with another salespeople, that salespeople want technical knowledge from an engineer to access more resources than the other salespeople and resolve their role uncertainty.

Second, the results show that a salespeople's information transmission positively affects process conflict between a salespeople and an engineer. Some authors have suggested that process conflict disturbs members' communication and information sharing (Jehn & Manniz, 2001; Matsuo, 2006). The findings indicate that information sharing activates inter-functional process conflict. One possible explanation for the information transmission/ process conflict relationship is as follows; through information transmission, a salespeople provides a process issue to discuss. For that reason, information transmission may increased process conflict between a salespeople and an engineer.

Finally, the results indicate that information transmission by salespeople moderates the relationship between intra-organizational conflict and inter-functional conflict. In the marketing study, information transmission has been discussed as a method for resolving conflicts (Dawes & Massey, 2005). On the other hand, some research has reported that frequent communication is reason for conflict. In this research, the results suggest that frequent communication positively affects conflict between salespeople and engineer. One possible explanation for the information transmission/ conflict relationship is as follows. Communication might enhance the likelihood of conflict's occurrence by suggesting own purpose and performance. Souder (1981) pointed out that each function has a different purpose, time-orientation, and method of understanding. Therefore, they take priority over the other peoples' purpose, leading to conflict. In particular, in this research, the results indicate that when conflict between salespeople is strong, the conflict gap between salespeople and engineer is widened by communication transmission. From these findings, we predict that, when salespeople who have strong conflict transmits sales information, inter-functional conflict will increase.

Therefore, this study has two managerial implications. First, sales managers should note the conflict relationship between salespeople. For sales managers to reduce the conflict between salespeople and engineers, they need to focus on those who have to act boundary spanners transmitting sales information to engineers. By selecting salespeople to transmit sales information to engineers, managers can control conflict.

Second, sales managers should control salespeoples' process conflict and relationship conflict. Process conflict refers to disagreement about resources and job allocation (Jehn & Mannix, 2001), and relationship conflict means disagreement about interpersonal incompatibilities (Amason & Sapienza, 1997). Since these two negative conflicts positively affect inter-functional negative conflict, conflict between salespeople has to be controlled first. Sales managers must monitor the conflict situation within the sales department, and participate in managing the conflict relationship while giving advice and solutions to salespeople. It may be crucial for managers to reduce negative conflict within in the company.

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Eunji Seo, Kobe University
Table 1 Correlation among Variables

Variable           1           2           3           4

1. c1t             1
2. c1r          .456 **        1
3. c1p          .575 **     .380 **        1
4. c2p           0.197       0.03       .281 **        1
5. c2r           0.203       0.178       0.128      .458 **
6. c2t          .380 **      0.173      .311 **     .516 **
7. Transmit     -0.005      -0.117       0.184      .211 *

Variable           5           6           7

1. c1t
2. c1r
3. c1p
4. c2p
5. c2r             1
6. c2t          .608 **        1
7. Transmit      0.021       0.128         1

**. P < 1%

*. P < 5%

* C1:Conflict between sales people

C2 : Conflict between a salespeople and an engineer

TC : Task conflict PC : Process conflict RC : Relationship conflict

Table 2. Summary of Two-way ANOVA Analysis

                                        C2t

Values                   Df        MS         F      P-value

C1r x Transmission        1       1.655     1.91      .170
C1p x Transmission        1       .049      .059      .813

                                        C2r

Values                   Df        MS         F      P-value

C1r x Transmission        1       7.49      11.41     .001
C1p x Transmission        1       1.002     1.348     .249

                                        C2p

Values                   Df        MS         F      p-value

C1r x Transmission        1       1.795     1.853     .177
C1p x Transmission        1       2.714     3.001     .087
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