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Does team conflict affect top management team creativity? Team climate as a moderator.

Top management teams (TMTs), as the high-level decision-making body in an organization, must be creative and innovative by providing new ideas and methods to solve problems (Rong, Li, & Xie, 2019). TMTs comprise the chief executive officer, general manager, and deputy general manager, and the senior managers who report directly to them. Previous researchers have examined the demographic characteristics and heterogeneity of TMTs (see, e.g., Georgakakis, Greve, & Ruigrok, 2017), but their findings have been inconsistent. Later researchers have explored the internal top management team (TMT) operation process, with a focus on TMT creativity (Garcia-Granero, Fernandez-Mesa, Jansen, & Vega-Jurado, 2018).

TMT creativity is the ability of members to present innovative and practical ideas for management practice (Shin & Zhou, 2007). They undertake the important mission of formulating and implementing strategic decisions (Rong & Ge, 2014). Creativity allows TMTs to adapt to environmental changes, promote decision making, and achieve innovative development for their enterprise (Rong et al., 2019). Researchers have examined TMT creativity formation via the effect of paternalistic and transformational leadership on TMT creativity (Chang, Liu, & Jing, 2016; Kim, 2017). However, they have not revealed the internal mechanism for TMT creativity formation because the stimulation of creativity depends on the participation and promotion of TMT members in a harmonious team climate; thus, team conflict management is particularly critical for TMT creativity (X. Liu & Chen, 2017).

Team conflict is a group process of obstruction and resistance when members perceive existing or potential antagonism (L.-G. Liu & Pu, 2013), and involves both cognitive and emotional conflict. Cognitive conflict is disagreement of opinions and ideas about the task itself, and does not involve personal assault or interpersonal disharmony (Tjosvold, Law, & Sun, 2006). Emotional conflict arises from interpersonal relationship disharmony among members, including contradiction, hatred, or anger. Conflict within TMTs is unavoidable because of heterogeneity in gender, age, and values. Du and Chen (2009) found that cognitive conflict can enhance TMT members' cognition about and understanding of tasks and bring diversified solutions, whereas emotional conflict reduces team cohesion and is not conducive to healthy development of the team or organization (Amason, 1996). Camelo-Ordaz, Garcia-Cruz, and Sousa-Ginel (2015) found that TMT cognitive conflict has a positive impact on enterprise innovation performance, whereas emotional conflict has the opposite effect. In addition, Wang, Su, and Guo (2019) found that cognitive conflict in TMTs positively affects exploratory innovation, whereas emotional conflict has a negative effect. While emotional conflict weakens TMT members' mutual understanding, hurts their feelings, and reduces their satisfaction, cognitive conflict promotes members' understanding of tasks and exchanges, and helps them to brainstorm, coordinate, and achieve team innovation (Chen, Zheng, & Wang, 2016). Therefore, we focused on the effect of both cognitive and emotional conflict on TMT creativity, and examined the moderating role of team climate in this relationship.

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Influence of Cognitive Conflict on Top Management Team Creativity

In the process of accomplishing team goals, members often have different problem-solving ideas because they differ in cognition, personality, roles, and preferences (Franke & Foerstl, 2018). When TMT members disagree on how to achieve team goals and disputes arise, cognitive conflict is formed within the team (Wang et al., 2019). Team creativity is the crystallization of collective wisdom, which requires TMT members to share diverse information and achieve knowledge transfer, exchange, and sharing (Rong et al., 2019). However, in the process of cognitive conflict, TMT members may express different opinions on decision making, expound opposing views, and provide learning opportunities to generate new ideas. Bengtsson, Raza-Ullah, and Srivastava (2018) found that TMT members' different knowledge and experience provide diverse information sources that help form ideas within the team, promote knowledge integration and innovation, and facilitate TMTs to promote diverse decision-making programs. Garcia-Granero et al. (2018) found that TMT members' diversity may lead to potential conflict but also contribute to the development of new combinations of exploration. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Cognitive conflict will have a significantly positive impact on top management team creativity.

Influence of Emotional Conflict on Top Management Team Creativity

Although social behavior is mostly purposeful, if team goals all need to be achieved simultaneously, conflict accompanied by motivation for resolution may arise (Vollstadt & Bohm, 2019). Chen et al. (2016) proposed that cognitive conflict helps to stimulate TMT creativity; however, it can trigger emotional conflict, causing tension in team interpersonal relationships. The focus of emotional conflict is on interpersonal conflict and emotional disputes, which lead to tension and discontent. Emotional conflict may bring about personal attacks that absorb team members' energy, distract them from their work, prevent them from forming a value consensus on important knowledge resources, and cause them to miss valuable opportunities for gaining information (de Jong, Song, & Song, 2013). In addition, emotional conflict increases TMT members' stress and anxiety, limits their cognitive horizons, and can result in their ignoring good solutions. Emotional conflict also leads to hostile or incorrect attribution, weakens TMT trust, makes it hard for members to overcome difficulties and challenges, and prevents them from achieving team innovation (Camelo-Ordaz et al., 2015). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Emotional conflict will have a significantly negative impact on top management team creativity.

Moderating Effect of Team Climate

From a contingency theory perspective, organizational management should respond to environmental changes to maintain organizational adaptability (McAdam, Miller, & McSorley, 2019). TMTs operate in a specific environment and team climate is the shared perceptions of TMT members toward the team environment (Carpenter, Geletkanycz, & Sanders, 2004). When the team climate changes, TMT internal operation processes will be adjusted accordingly, and this will change the team conflict level. B. Liu, Xie, and Meng (2011) found that a team climate of trust and identity can reduce emotional conflict and increase cognitive conflict, whereas a team climate of openness is negatively correlated with emotional conflict. This is because differences of opinion among TMT members in a climate of mutual trust not only have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships or cause emotional conflict, but promote more in-depth communication. Members can, thus, directly express their disagreement and improve the cognitive conflict level so that new ideas will come into being (Chen et al., 2016). For example, Lin, Trang, and Liu (2016) found that TMT knowledge sharing and learning in a climate of mutual trust significantly improve enterprise output, and in a relatively stable (vs. unstable) environment the moderating role of team climate is more significant.

In contrast, in a team climate of mutual criticism, hidden political actions weaken mutual trust relationships and result in hostility among members. This leads to an increase in emotional conflict because members cannot engage in information exchange or propose solutions; thus, team creativity declines (Tekleab, Karaca, Quigley, & Tsang, 2016). De Clercq and Belausteguigoitia (2017) found that a work atmosphere that encourages innovation effectively reduces the negative impact of emotional conflict on team members' job satisfaction, encourages them to share innovative ideas, and stimulates innovation. Therefore, we proposed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 3a: Team climate will moderate the positive relationship between cognitive conflict and top management team creativity, such that the relationship is more positive in a tolerant climate and less positive in a tense climate.

Hypothesis 3b: Team climate will moderate the negative relationship between emotional conflict and top management team creativity, such that the relationship is less negative in a tolerant climate and more negative in a tense climate.

Method

Participants and Procedure

After we had conducted a small-scale presurvey of TMT members of enterprises in East China, we distributed 782 surveys to 74 TMTs in enterprises in most regions in China. The formal survey was conducted by the enterprises' senior executives who were studying for Master of Business Administration or Executive Master of Business Administration degrees, and they were also entrusted to invite other team members to fill in and collect the surveys. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Shanghai Normal University and participants provided written informed consent prior to taking part in this research.

Of the 703 surveys we collected, 684 from 71 TMTs were valid (response rate = 87.47%). On average, each team consisted of 10 members (range = 6-13, SD = 3.25). Of the participants, 43.42% were women and 56.58 were men, and 27.63% were aged from 30 to 40 years, 40.06% from 41 to 50 years, and 32.31% were aged 51 years and above. Regarding their highest educational levels, 25.73% of participants had completed junior college or below, 42.84% had a bachelor's degree, and 31.43% had a master's degree or higher level of education. In terms of tenure, 13.01% had worked at their jobs for less than 3 years, 26.90% from 3 to 5 years, 32.31% from 6 to 10 years, and 27.78% over 10 years.

Measures

Participants assessed each item on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. The higher the score, the stronger was the situation indicated by the item.

To measure team conflict, we used an eight-item team conflict scale from Tjosvold et al. (2006), which comprises cognitive and emotional dimensions, each with four items. A sample item for cognitive conflict is "Top management team members often hold different opinions about what they are doing." A sample item for emotional conflict is "There is much friction among top management team members."

We measured team climate with a four-item team climate scale used by Cox (2011). A sample item is "Top management team members can accommodate one another's faults or errors."

To measure top management team creativity, we adapted Shin and Zhou's (2007) four-item creativity scale. A sample item is "Top management team members often produce new suggestions and new ideas."

We controlled for the demographic variables of gender, age, tenure, and education level of TMT members, because these have been found to affect TMTs' operation process (J.-W. Zhu & Peng, 2017).

Results of comparative factor analysis show that the normalized factor loadings of the items were all greater than .60 (p < .001), and the overall fit was good (see Table 1). The variables of cognitive conflict, emotional conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity had acceptable discriminant validity, and Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients were .88, .90, .86, and .89, respectively.

Data Analysis

To aggregate TMT members' individual data to the team level, we adopted the [r.sub.wg] index of agreement (Rong et al., 2019) and found that three teams' data could not be aggregated. After they had been deleted, the [r.sub.wg] index medians for team conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity in the remaining 71 teams were .95 (M = 0.92), .93 (M = 0.91), and .96 (M = 0.94). These show that the evaluations of team members were consistent for each variable (Rong et al., 2019). The values of intraclass correlation coefficient ICC(1) for team conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity were .22, .24, and .21, respectively, and the values of ICC(2) for team conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity were .65, .67, and .63, respectively. Therefore, we determined we could aggregate the individual-level data to the team level.

Results

Descriptive Analysis

Descriptive statistics and correlations for the study variables are shown in Table 2.

Cognitive conflict was significantly and positively correlated with emotional conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity. Emotional conflict was significantly and negatively correlated with team climate and TMT creativity. Team climate was significantly and positively correlated with TMT creativity. Of the four control variables, age and tenure were significantly and negatively correlated with emotional conflict, and education level was significantly and positively correlated with cognitive conflict and TMT creativity.

Hypothesis Testing

The results of multilevel regression analysis are shown in Table 3.

According to Models 2 and 3 (see Table 3), cognitive conflict had a significant positive effect on TMT creativity and emotional conflict had a significant negative effect on TMT creativity. Thus, Hypotheses 1 and 2 were supported.

We tested the moderating effect of team climate in the relationship between team conflict using Model 4 and TMT creativity using Model 5. In comparison with Model 2, Model 4 showed a significantly improved fit; therefore, team climate had a positive moderating effect in the relationship between cognitive conflict and TMT creativity. The moderating effect curves are shown in Figure 1: In a tolerant team climate, cognitive conflict had a greater positive impact on TMT creativity (slope = .44, p < .001). However, in a tense team climate, cognitive conflict had a less positive impact on TMT creativity (slope = .20, p < .001). Thus, Hypothesis 3a was supported.

In comparison with Model 3, Model 5 showed a significantly improved fit; thus, team climate had a negative moderating effect in the relationship between emotional conflict and TMT creativity. The moderating effect curves are shown in Figure 2: In a tolerant team climate, emotional conflict had a less negative impact on TMT creativity (slope = -.24, p < .01). However, in a tense team climate, emotional conflict had a greater negative impact on TMT creativity (slope = -.42, p < .01). Thus, Hypothesis 3b was supported.

Discussion

Theoretical Implications

We differ from previous researchers who examined team creativity (e.g., Park, Lew, & Lee, 2018; Pei, 2017) in that we explored the influence of team conflict on TMT creativity from a team process perspective and made several new findings. First, through an in-depth connotation analysis of team conflict, we found that cognitive conflict has a positive impact and emotional conflict a negative impact, on TMT creativity. Previous researchers have used a team leader perspective to focus on how leaders with different styles influence TMT creativity (Chang et al., 2016; Kim, 2017), but have not examined other antecedents that may affect TMT creativity. Our results reveal the origins of TMT creativity and show that team conflict affects TMT creativity, a process that can be regulated by different team climates.

Second, we identified team climate as a key situational factor through which team conflict affects TMT creativity. X. Zhu, Wholey, Cain, and Natafgi (2017) did not make this identification in their exploration of the moderating role of team climate in an organizational environment. We found that team climate played an important moderating role in the process of team conflict affecting TMT creativity, that is, if the team climate was tolerant, the positive impact of cognitive conflict on TMT creativity was stronger. However, if team climate was tense, the negative impact of emotional conflict on TMT creativity was stronger. This finding promotes understanding of the boundary conditions for the role of team climate, and awareness of the critical situations in which team conflict affects TMT creativity.

Third, team process is the black box of the interaction between TMT and organizational performance, and it is a new direction that researchers can follow (Rong, Su, & Wang, 2018). Unlike previous researchers, who focused only on TMT members' demographic characteristics of gender, age, tenure, and education level (Hsieh, Chen, Tseng, & Lin, 2018; J.-W. Zhu & Peng, 2017), we showed the influence of the process variables of team conflict and team climate on TMT creativity from a team process perspective in an organizational context. Similar to Wang et al.'s (2019) finding, we confirmed both the positive effect of cognitive conflict and the negative effect of emotional conflict on creativity in TMTs. However, we also found that the adjustment of team climate as an organizational context variable meant that both the positive effect of cognitive conflict and the negative effect of emotional conflict on TMT creativity changed. Thus, team climate played an opposite role in the process of the two conflict dimensions affecting TMT creativity. Our results enhance understanding of the relationship between the team process variables, and provide a theoretical contribution to the literature on internal process in TMTs.

Practical Implications

The strengthening of team building and effective enhancement of TMT creativity is increasingly of common concern for managers and researchers. Our theoretical and empirical research findings that team conflict affects TMT creativity show that TMTs should pay attention to the process variable of team conflict and the organizational context variable of team climate. Enterprises should strengthen the exchange of knowledge and information in TMTs, encourage members to put forward decision-making perspectives to form cognitive conflict, improve TMT members' creative thinking, and promote TMT creativity creation. For example, in the team decision-making process, TMT members should be encouraged to express opinions and generate new ideas, and propose decision-making plans that are then discussed and debated from different perspectives to form cognitive conflict. Enterprises should also strive to create a tolerant TMT climate; promote open communication; encourage TMT members to not only accept different opinions but also understand and trust one another during the team cooperation process; and form common ideals, beliefs, and values to reduce emotional conflict.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are several limitations in this study. First, as we followed Western researchers' concepts and measurement of team conflict, team climate, and TMT creativity, there was a lack of specific connotation of variables in the local Chinese environment. Regarding the differences between Chinese and Western personal habits and values, Chinese people often pay more attention to the face culture that allows team members to be empathetic to each other when working together, and their means of expression in team communication is relatively implicit. Therefore, factors influencing TMT creativity in Western contexts may be quite different in Chinese culture. Measurement scales in the Chinese cultural context are, thus, urgently required. Second, although our cross-sectional data supported our hypotheses, the influence of cognitive and emotional conflict on TMT creativity and the moderating role of team climate are implicitly dynamic processes, and their performance may vary at different time points. Therefore, future researchers should adopt a longitudinal research paradigm to further reveal the intrinsic dynamic process mechanism. Third, we considered neither the influence of team conflict on TMT creativity nor the moderating role of team climate through individual members' responses. Therefore, future researchers should construct a cross-level model to analyze the effect of team conflict and team climate on TMT members' individual psychological and behavioral responses.

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the General Project of the National Social Science Fund (17BGL097), General Topics of Shanghai Philosophical and Social Sciences Planning in 2019 (2019BGL025), Special Topic of Shanghai Think Tank Research in 2018 (2018TZB034), and Special Project of Research Base for Developmental Research Center of Shanghai Municipal People's Government and Shanghai Normal University in 2018 (2018-YJ-C05).

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Pengfei Rong (1) Lan Zhang (2), Jiaqi Xie (1)

(1) College of Philosophy, Law, and Political Science, Shanghai Normal University, People's Republic of China

(2) School of Business and Finance, Shanghai Normal University, People's Republic of China

CORRESPONDENCE Pengfei Rong, Room 702, Liberal Arts Experimental Building, College of Philosophy, Law, and Politics Science, Shanghai Normal University, 81 Guilin Road, Shanghai 200234, People's Republic of China. Email: rpff2000@163.com

https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.8572
Table 1. Fit Results for Comparative Factor Analysis of Study Variables

Variable            [chi square]/df  P      CFI  TLI  RMSEA

Cognitive conflict  2.81             <.001  .94  .90  .07
Emotional conflict  2.84             <.001  .92  .91  .06
Team climate        2.85             <.001  .92  .94  .08
TMT creativity      2.86             <.001  .91  .93  .06

Note. TMT = top management team, CFI = comparative fit index, TLI =
Tucker--Lewis index, RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation.

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Correlation Coefficients for Study
Variables

                       1     2         3     4         5

1. Gender
2. Age                  .07
3. Tenure               .03   .06
4. Education level      .08  -.04      -.09
5. Cognitive conflict   .10  -.07      -.05   .16 (*)
6. Emotional conflict  -.11  -.12 (*)  -.10  -.04       .27 (*)
7. Team climate         .07   .05       .11   .05       .33 (*)
8. TMT creativity       .10  -.06      -.07   .13 (*)   .45 (***)
M                      1.13  3.27      2.85  2.76      3.02
SD                     0.47  1.03      0.79  1.25      1.24

                       6          7         8

1. Gender
2. Age
3. Tenure
4. Education level
5. Cognitive conflict
6. Emotional conflict
7. Team climate        -.43 (**)
8. TMT creativity      -.40 (**)   .38 (*)
M                      3.34       2.59      2.66
SD                     0.96       0.77      1.03

Note. N = 71. TMT = top management team.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001.

Table 3. Multilevel Regression Analysis: Moderating Effect of Team
Climate in the Relationship Between Team Conflict and Top Management
Team Creativity

Variable                             Dependent variable: TMT creativity
                                     Model 1  Model 2     Model 3

Control variable
  Gender                              .073     .056        .049
  Age                                -.105    -.102       -.085
  Tenure                             -.081    -.066       -.062
  Education level                     .054     .059        .071
Main effect
  Cognitive conflict                           .486 (**)
  Emotional conflict                                      -.402 (**)
Moderating variable
  Team climate
Product term
  Cognitive conflict x Team climate
  Emotional conflict x Team climate
[R.sup.2]                             .032     .172        .216
F                                    1.179    4.298 (**)  4.427 (**)
[DELTA][R.sup.2]                     -         .165        .202
[DELTA]F                             -        2.190 (**)  2.067 (**)

Variable                             Dependent variable: TMT creativity
                                     Model 4      Model 5

Control variable
  Gender                              .043         .052
  Age                                -.097        -.078
  Tenure                             -.084        -.101
  Education level                     .076         .053
Main effect
  Cognitive conflict                  .417 (**)
  Emotional conflict                              -.374 (**)
Moderating variable
  Team climate                        .295 (***)   .256 (**)
Product term
  Cognitive conflict x Team climate   .189 (*)
  Emotional conflict x Team climate               -.172 (*)
[R.sup.2]                             .368         .347
F                                    5.720 (**)   5.682 (**)
[DELTA][R.sup.2]                      .343         .325
[DELTA]F                             3.294 (**)   3.157 (**)

Note. TMT = top management team.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001.
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Author:Rong, Pengfei; Zhang, Lan; Xie, Jiaqi
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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