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Project Management Journal

Vol. 50(1)1–14
Conflict Management, Team Coordination, ª 2018 Project Management Institute, Inc.
Article reuse guidelines:
and Performance Within Multicultural DOI: 10.1177/8756972818818257
Temporary Projects: Evidence From the
Construction Industry

Amin Akhavan Tabassi1, Aldrin Abdullah1, and David James Bryde2

The purpose of our study is to enhance the understanding of relationships between conflict management style, team coordination,
and performance in multicultural project team contexts. We investigate how conflict management can contribute to team
effectiveness through the mediation of the level of team coordination by collecting data from 126 team leaders and supervisors
and 378 members nested in different multicultural projects in the construction industry. Our results show that, contrary to the
findings from prior research in other team contexts, an avoiding style of conflict management can have a positive impact on the
performance of multicultural project teams.

conflict management style, construction projects, team coordination, Malaysia, team performance, temporary project

Introduction methods in dealing with conflict in the course of managing

multicultural teams. It has also been noted that how a team
Conflict is a process whereby one side perceives that self-
manages conflict greatly affects team performance (De Dreu,
interests are adversely influenced by another party’s actions
2007; De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Tjos-
(Wall & Callister, 1995). This implies that conflict is a process
vold, 2008). Consequently, different approaches to managing
incorporating two or more people or groups within which one
conflict in group environments may affect the way teams are
party has to perceive the other party’s actions as in opposition to
coordinating. Furthermore, earlier research in predominantly
its own. Researchers have asserted that conflict is a common trait
Western contexts suggests that in temporary organizations, the
in every teamwork activity and inherent within daily interactions
coordination of a team influences team efficiency along with
(Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jia, Yang, Wang, Hong, & You, 2011;
overall project performance (Mitropoulos & Cupido, 2009;
Müller, Turner, Andersen, Shao, & Kvalnes, 2016; Tjosvold,
O’Leary-Kelly, Martocchio, & Frink, 1994; Stott & Walker,
2008). Prior works highlighted that the way a team deals with
1995). However, these relationships have not been widely tested
conflict significantly impacts its performance (De Dreu & Gel-
in other cultural contexts, such as East Asia.
fand, 2008; Liu & Cross, 2016; Prieto-Remón, Cobo-Benita,
In temporary organizations, coordination is a core compe-
Ortiz-Marcos, & Uruburu, 2015; Tjosvold, 2008; Yousefi, Hipel,
tency of the team leader (Project Management Institute, 2017).
& Hegazy, 2010). However, conflict is seen not only to have
Coordination issues have been emphasized by researchers in a
harmful consequences but also to be remarkably constructive in
some team-based work environments (De Dreu, 2007; De Dreu
& Gelfand, 2008; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Li & Li, 2009; Tjos- 1
School of Housing, Building & Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang,
vold, 2008). Team members’ perception of the way in which Malaysia
their desired goals may be affected by actions significantly influ- 2
Liverpool Business School, Liverpool Johns Moores University, Liverpool,
ences both the nature of interactions and the final results of England
conflict management (Deutsch, 1990). Preceding studies also
Corresponding Author:
outlined that conflict is more likely to arise and escalate when Amin Akhavan Tabassi, School of Housing, Building & Planning, Universiti Sains
cultural differences are present among the parties (Fisher, 1990). Malaysia, Penang 11800, Malaysia.
Consequently, different cultures may possibly use different Email:
2 Project Management Journal 50(1)

wide range of contexts, including organizational design, tech- 2017). However, there are different conflict-handling styles
nology adoption and innovation, and group competition, to that individuals may employ when interacting with others in
name just a few (De Dreu, 2007; Müller et al., 2016; Yousefi interpersonal or business engagements (Chiocchio, Forgues,
et al., 2010; Zhang, Cao, & Tjosvold, 2011). Team coordina- Paradis, & Iordanova, 2011; Kleinman, Palmon, & Lee,
tion in many temporary organizations, such as those in the 2003; Wu et al., 2017). Effective styles lead to conflict resolu-
construction industry, takes place in the context of highly com- tion, enhance work steadiness (Wu et al., 2017), promote feel-
plex and dynamic environments (Loosemore, Dainty, & Lin- ings of self-efficacy among team members, minimize the
gard, 2003). Therefore, it presents a challenging context for likelihood of negative conflicts in future work, and also result
achieving effective teamwork (Tabassi & Bakar, 2009; in a company’s long-term financial growth (Cheung & Chuah,
Tabassi, Ramli, & Bakar, 2012). 1999; Rubin, Pruitt, & Kim, 1994).
To contribute to our understanding of one particular chal- Pressure to come to an agreement (Baron, 1988), power
lenging context, the objective of this study is to investigate the differences (Zartman & Touval, 1985), complexity of the orga-
relationships between conflict management approaches, team nization’s task (Chiocchio et al., 2011), interdependence of the
coordination, and the performance of multicultural project units (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1986), and culture and leadership
teams. Our understanding of the mechanisms by which team styles (Chiocchio et al., 2011; Kozan, 1989) all influence the
leaders exert influence at the team level, through such actions way conflict ought to be managed. The literature indicates that
as conflict management and coordination, is still limited (Sun, the success or otherwise of dealing with conflict has a direct
Xu, & Shang, 2014); hence, by investigating the practices and impact on the project performance of temporary organizations
performance of project teams in this context, our study has (Lundin & Soderholm, 1995; Müller et al., 2016). In such
significant theoretical contributions. organizations, the negative consequences of a failure to deal
The empirical context for this study was the Malaysian con- with conflict have two root causes: first, failure to deal with
struction industry. This industry was chosen because the tem- technical conflicts that arise from different role perspectives
porary organizations undertaking projects in this sector are (Chen, Zhang, & Zhang, 2014), and second, distrust among
typically multicultural, being made up of three main ethnic team members or different personal behaviors (Tjosvold,
groups, with each having their own cultural norms and values: 2008). As stated above, conflict per se is not necessarily neg-
Malays, Chinese, and Indians. This reflects the composition of ative. Therefore, conflict should be effectively managed in
the general population in the country (i.e., in 2010, Malays order to realize the optimum level (Leung, Yu, & Liang, 2014).
made up 60.3%, Chinese 24.6%, and Indians 7.1% of the total A number of theoretical styles of dealing with interpersonal
population) (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2018). Gener- conflict have been proposed (Kleinman et al., 2003; Rahim &
ally, the limited prior research has investigated East Asians’ Magner, 1995; Rubin et al., 1994). These theorists build on the
approaches to managing conflict, specifically looking at tem- pioneering work of Blake and Mouton (1964), who classed con-
porary multicultural (TMC) teams. Furthermore, in project flict-managing strategies into five styles: forcing, withdrawing,
management, as with other management disciplines, people- smoothing, compromising, and confrontation. The authors further
related issues have been getting more attention in East Asian grouped these five strategies under two broad dimensions, which
countries, such as Malaysia, as firms are recognizing the are associated with the behavior of the team leader, namely: (1)
impact of the management of human resources on organiza- concern for people, and (2) concern for task. In 1976, Blake and
tional performance (Chen, Uen, & Chen, 2016). Mouton’s styles for handling conflicts in team environments were
We sought to answer the following broad question: How do reviewed and refined by Thomas (1976, cited in Rahim &
Malaysians approach the management of conflict in TMC Magner, 1995). Thomas also grouped the methods of coping with
teams, and do these approaches lead to different outcomes, in conflict into five styles, and he also identified two main dimen-
terms of team coordination and performance? We sought to sions: (1) cooperativeness, within which individual’s concerns
answer this question through a hierarchical regression analysis are higher for peers; and (2) assertiveness, when self-concerns
of data from 126 teams in TMC organizations undertaking are more significant. Along with these two dimensions, five dif-
construction projects in Malaysia. ferent conflict resolution styles were presented, based on the
degree to which an individual practices cooperativeness or asser-
tiveness: cooperative, competitive, accommodating, avoiding,
Conflict-Handling Styles and compromising (Rahim & Magner, 1995).
The rapid growth of complex projects in the construction indus-
try across the world has resulted in varied interorganizational
Cooperative Approach to Conflict Management and
conflicts (Hu, Chen, Gu, Huang, & Liu, 2017; Wu, Zhao, &
Zuo, 2017). The influences of conflicts among team members
Team Coordination
on project performance in the industry could be destructive or Interdependence in conflict management, which was pro-
constructive, relying on plenty of variables, such as conflict posed by Deutsch (1990), outlines a scenario in which indi-
management style of leaders, nature of conflict, the perceptions viduals value peers’ abilities and options, which primarily
of team members in working with conflict, and so on (Wu et al., leads to cooperative goal achievement and open communication
Tabassi et al. 3

in dealing with conflict (Tjosvold et al., 2001). In the event This is a confrontational approach that leads to one side capi-
that people feel they need others’ abilities, opinions, and tulating to the other. Yang, Cheng, and Chuang (2013) listed
resources, they are more likely to be encouraged to cope with some of the commonly used tactics in this style, which include:
conflict cooperatively. Accordingly, they may also reach a direct communication with regard to the issues, persistent dis-
point where to have a long-term relationship and to be able agreement with other parties’ opinion and remaining rooted to
to continue to work together in an effective fashion, it would one’s own position, and attempts to seize control of communi-
be necessary to resolve conflict cooperatively for mutual gain. cation channels.
Project managers with cooperative conflict management style Managers or team leaders who implement this strategy typi-
are more open in coping with conflict and even rated as more cally impose their thoughts or opinions onto their subordinates,
successful leaders. Moreover, it can be concluded that mutual and the conflict often ends with undesirable results. Such lead-
dependence aids cooperative conflict management, which ers emphasize their competitive pursuits, which may result in
could result in better project coordination. In collectivist soci- others moving away from attainment of the project goal. They
eties, such as China, where empirical study has been under- are inclined to look at conflict as a win-lose challenge: If the
taken, it has also been found that managing conflict other wins, they lose. This discourages effective communica-
cooperatively can lead to higher perceptions of fair treatment tion and leads to the imposition of an opinion by the most
among individuals, which in turn leads to better team perfor- powerful party on the conflict. Individuals with more focus
mance (Chen & Tjosvold, 2002). on independence and with less emphasis on interdependence
In terms of achieving win-win situations, a cooperative style may gravitate toward the competitive style in coping with con-
encourages open-minded interactions, in order to realize flict, which increases the probability of a perceived maximum
opposing concepts, assimilate opposing views, develop accep- personal gain, as opposed to the gain in win-win situations (De
table alternatives, and strengthen individuals’ relationships. Dreu & Gelfand, 2008; Prieto-Remón et al., 2015; Tjosvold,
This results in mutual solutions that are favorable to both par- 2008). To explore the impact of the competitive style of con-
ties (Walton & McKersie, 1965). Team members can adopt a flict on the workings of the team, in the context of the effec-
cooperative conflict resolution strategy by concentrating on tiveness of coordination activities, we hypothesized that a
their shared aims. They will demonstrate that they seek mutual negative relationship exists between this style of conflict man-
profit from an activity, are seeking to solicit everyone’s point agement and team coordination:
of view, and are available to integrate different suggestions in
H2: The competitive conflict management approach within
order to set up a mutually practical solution (Deutsch, 1990;
the TMC organization undertaking projects is negatively
Tjosvold, 1985). A cooperative style is characterized by open
related to effective team coordination.
communication, responsiveness to others, shared understand-
ing, and the development of mutually favorable alternatives
(Ayoko, 2016; Sanders & Schyns, 2006). Avoiding Approach to Conflict Management and Team
A cooperative conflict management style is seen to pro- Coordination
mote high team performance and desirable individual beha-
The avoiding approach seeks to smooth over conflicts quickly,
vior (Tjosvold, Poon, & Yu, 2005). In addition, teams that are
by minimizing dialogue on the issues. The avoiding conflict
able to deal with conflict cooperatively are also able to
management style typically is predicated on the fact that pit-
improve their own performance (Tjosvold, Hui, & Yu,
falls and issues should not be brought into the open and dis-
2003). Specifically, expressions of individual satisfaction of
cussed between the parties. It is characterized as having low
being part of the team, team efficacy, boosts to innovation and
concern for the self and for others and seeks actions that will
creativity, and better goal achievement are all claimed as
serve to limit dealing with the conflict clearly, either by dis-
outcomes of cooperative approaches to the management of
regarding it or switching discussions to a new subject. This
conflict (Tjosvold, 2008).
style of conflict management has been compared to disengage-
It is hypothesized that there will be a positive relationship
ment, buck-passing, and sidestepping scenarios (Rahim, 2002).
between this style of conflict management and team coordina-
Those who adopt this style of conflict management do not show
tion. Hence, the first hypothesis to test is:
strong emotions of anger and irritation. They are inclined to act
H1: The cooperative conflict management approach within as if they are indifferent both to their own personal concerns
the TMC organization undertaking projects is positively and to the concerns of other team members.
related to effective team coordination. An avoiding style of conflict management has been
observed in East Asian contexts. The East Asian collectivist
cultures tend to be thought to focus on interdependence and a
Competitive Approach to Conflict Management and
tacit acknowledgment that individuals greatly depend upon
Team Coordination each other (Tjosvold, 2008; Tjosvold et al., 2001). Accord-
Competitive conflict increases independence among team ingly, some people may adopt this style of conflict resolution
members. A competitive style (high concern for self and low only because they intend to maintain their relationships, which
concern for others) has been linked with a win-lose scenario. might, however, result in dysfunctional project team operation.
4 Project Management Journal 50(1)

To explore the likelihood of such an outcome arising from short-term resolution to the conflict at hand (Liu et al., 2009). It
practicing the avoidance style of conflict management, we gen- has also been outlined as unique in the sense that it focuses on
erate our third hypothesis: meeting the individual’s self-needs along with the needs of
others (Gross & Guerrero, 2000). Compromising is typically
H3: The avoiding conflict management approach within the
perceived as an essential complement to other strategies in
TMC organization undertaking projects is negatively related
solving conflicts in not only Western organizational contexts
to effective team coordination.
and companies, but also in some East Asian environments (e.g.,
styles adopted by Chinese managers [Liu et al., 2009]). Prior
Accommodating Approach to Conflict Management and research suggests that a compromising style has positive con-
Team Coordination sequences on the innovation success of companies (Gobeli,
Koenig, & Bechinger, 1998), is positively related to team per-
An accommodating style (low concern for self and high con- formance (Coetzer & Trimble, 2010), and is negatively related
cern for others) is characterized by an imperfect assessment of to harmful aspects of conflicts (Vollmer, 2015). Hence, our
alternate options, as well as one-sided functions of giving in to fifth hypothesis is as follows:
others, which usually results in lower quality decision making
(Kuhn & Poole, 2000). An accommodating individual disre- H5: The compromising conflict management approach
gards her own concerns in order to take care of others’. This within the TMC organization undertaking projects team is
style of conflict management usually happens when conflicts positively related to effective team coordination.
are going to be managed with superiors, in particular, whenever
the managers or superiors are seen as being quite dominating. Conceptual Framework Development
In addition to the above, an accommodating approach has been
observed in situations where personal interests clash with those The term performance in a group work environment has been
of the project, organization, or even when a minority point of widely put in place to reflect the activities’ ultimate outcomes
view conflicts with that of the majority. It is associated with as well as to figure out whether or not an individual and/or a
amenable behavior that consists of putting aside one’s own team is remaining productive (Tabassi, Roufechaei, Bakar, &
desires in order to be able to satisfy the other party, agreeing NorAini, 2017). In the construction industry, different project
with the other party’s decisions, and giving way to the argu- teams mostly form the focal point of project delivery. For that
ments or statements of others by denying or declining to reason, the dynamic transforming characteristics of construc-
express one’s own ideas (Liu, Fu, & Liu, 2009). Such behaviors tion activities demand construction organizations to gain or
may well negatively impact the functioning of the team; hence, even develop several teams whenever a new project or a new
our fourth hypothesis is: phase of a project is carried out (Raiden & Dainty, 2006).
Therefore, any techniques and procedures that are appointed
H4: The accommodating conflict resolution approach by the organization as a means to further improve teamwork
within the TMC organization undertaking projects is nega- coordination could possibly convey favorable results to the
tively related to effective team coordination. overall team or project performance (Tabassi, Ramli, Roufe-
chaei, & Tabassi, 2014; Tabassi et al., 2017).
Thus far, research on conflict management has shown more
Compromising Approach to Conflict Management and
focus on the relationships between conflict-handling style of
Team Coordination the leader and team performance (De Dreu & Gelfand, 2008;
The compromising conflict management style is placed in the Prieto-Remón et al., 2015; Rahim, 2002; Tjosvold, 2008; Tjos-
middle of the continuum of the two dimensions: concern for vold et al., 2001). Alternatively, the relationship between team
self, and concern for others. Compromising strategies exhibit coordination and team performance has been the focus of a
moderate attention to seek mutual agreements, but have less number of prior studies in the management literature (Banks,
interest in putting forth a collaborative effort to achieve them. Pollack, & Seers, 2016; Rico, Sánchez-Manzanares, Gil, &
This style has been characterized as a half-hearted problem- Gibson, 2008; Tuncdogan, Boon, Mom, Bosch, & Volberda,
solving alternative (Pruitt, Kim, & Rubin, 2004). Both sides 2017; Yukl, 2006; Zhang et al., 2011 ). Coordination processes
could possibly achieve certain benefits, as well as some losses, involve the activities orchestrating the relationship and sche-
through the give-and-take in which each party may give up duling interdependent tasks in the team environment (e.g.,
some necessary desires or targets—with a less-than-optimal managing work, setting up the tasks of each member, and
result being agreed upon (Rahim & Magner, 1995). People detailing guidelines and regular procedures) (Yukl, 2006;
typically adopt this style in the event that a willingness to Zalesny, Salas, & Prince, 1995). In the same way, coordination
unravel the root causes of conflict is not completely sustained. activities are observed as necessary conduct for teams to be
A compromising approach entails different tactics, such as: able to exchange information and straighten the course of team
bowing to the concept of justice, advising on trade-offs, member actions (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001; Tuncdo-
increasing gains and reducing losses, meeting the parties mid- gan et al., 2017). Even though we are aware of the critical
way, splitting the costs of variations, and looking for rapid and relationship between conflict management and team
Tabassi et al. 5



Rated by Team Members Rated by Team Leaders Rated by Team Supervisors

Figure 1. Hypothesized model.

performance, limited studies have examined the conflict man- management style of the leaders on a 5-point Likert scale
agement style of leaders, coordination, and performance (1 ¼ “Never” to 5 ¼ “Always”).
together, particularly in multicultural team environments in the Since the team formed the unit of assessment in this study,
construction industry. We contribute to enriching such an under- and the data on conflict management were acquired at the
standing by investigating the mediating role of coordination individual team members’ level, the data needed to be aggre-
mechanisms. The overall conceptual framework for the research gated. Yet, any such aggregation needs to be validated by the-
reported in this article is depicted in Figure 1. The hypotheses oretical as well as empirical justifications (Rousseau, 1985).
focus on three specific relationships: the link between conflict Whether conflict resolution and management activities, as per-
management approaches and team coordination; the link ceived by team members, may be aggregated and used to value
between team coordination and team performance; and the link the styles of handling conflict is a controversial issue (Yam-
between conflict management approaches and team perfor- marino & Dansereau, 2008). Interaction among team members
mance, mediated by team coordination. allows for sharing and processing of information regarding the
The relationships between conflict management approaches team leader, which probably results in individuals’ homoge-
and team performance, and between conflict management neous concepts of approaches for managing conflicts within the
approaches and team performance, mediated by team coordi- team (Zhang et al., 2011). To achieve the desired aggregation,
nation, are explored through the following two hypotheses: James, Demaree, and Wolf (1984) recommend the use of the
multi-item, which is measured as follows:
H6: Team coordination is positively related to team perfor-
mance within the TMC organization. S2
J  1  2k
H7: Team coordination mediates between conflict manage- s
rWGðJ Þ ¼  EU  ðEquation 1Þ
ment approaches and team performance within the TMC S2
1 þ ðJ  1Þ  1  2k
organization. sEU

The rWGðJ Þ index applies the Spearman-Brown prophecy

method to incorporate the number of items in the calculation
Measuring Instruments and Data Collection of within-group agreement. Hence, J is the number of items in a
Team performance was measured using an adaption of Tabassi measure and Sk2 is the average variance of the J items in a
et al.’s (2017) survey instrument. Tabassi et al.’s instrument group of k-raters.
was based on the work of Hirst (1999) and an additional item, The study evaluates the theorized model (Figure 1) by uti-
team cohesiveness, which is also pointed out in A Guide to the lizing a multilevel design (Ju, Qin, & Xu, 2016) with individ-
Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – uals (level 1) nested in projects (level 2). Data were collected
Sixth Edition (Project Management Institute, 2017). from three different level 1 sources: Team members rated the
The study adapted a scale for measuring the team coordina- five approaches to conflict management that could be exhibited
tion that was initially formulated by Hackman (1983, as cited in by team leaders, including cooperative, competitive, accom-
Zhang et al., 2011) and is widely applied in organizational modating, avoiding, and compromising; the team leaders eval-
research (De Dreu, 2007; Zhang et al., 2011). uated the level of team coordination; and last, the supervisor of
The conflict management styles were measured using a each team rated the team performance. As outlined by Zhang
previously validated instrument devised by Northouse et al. (2011), this method of data collection will reduce the risk
(2011) and available at of common method variance (CMV) as a possible alternative
The team members were asked to rate the conflict for justification of the results.
6 Project Management Journal 50(1)

With regard to data collection, three distinct types of survey Conflict Management Assessment
questionnaires were dispersed between the respondents. The
The degree of explained variance in the hierarchical model
measurement of items was done primarily using the Likert
was reflected in its components: cooperative (62.6%), com-
scale of five ordinal measures, from one (1) to five (5), based
petitive (1.1%), accommodating (2.5%), avoiding (23.6%),
on the degree of importance/agreement. An invitation notice
and compromising (4%). However, only the path coefficient
was delivered to 800 large-sized construction firms in Malay-
from the cooperative approach to team coordination was sta-
sia. At the end of a six-month period, 126 teams had agreed to
tistically significant (at p < 0.01). In addition, the avoiding
participate in the research. Seven research officers were then
approach to conflict management showed a p value less than
directed to the respondent companies in several locations in
0.1, which is partially significant to team coordination. The
Malaysia. In order to reduce likely bias, the three members
composite reliability (CR) and average variance extracted
from each team were randomly selected to assess the conflict
(AVE) of all constructs were above 0.7 and 0.5, respectively,
management style of their team leader.
which exceed the recommended cutoff values (Hair, Hult,
Ringle, & Sarstedt, 2014).
Sample The rWGðJ Þ index scores for each conflict management style
were as follows: cooperative (0.908), competitive (0.899),
The respondents incorporated 378 members of 126 construc- accommodating (0.91), avoiding (0.913), and compromising
tion project teams in Malaysia and their equivalent 126 team (0.908).
leaders, along with supervisors from the upper-level adminis- Despite the fact that generally there is some disagreement
trative headquarters for each organization. The minimum sam- related to the cutoff value rWG (Lance et al., 2006), these
ple size was verified and a reactive Monte Carlo analysis was values are higher than the commonly agreed-upon 0.70 value.
carried out (Chin, 1998). Consequently, the sample size of 126 Furthermore, the percentage of rWG > 0.70 for the aggregated
surpassed the suggested minimum of 54 that is considered parameters was calculated to be 86%. Additional analysis was
sufficient for model testing (Green, 1991). carried out and there was no team with an rWG lower than 0.50
The size of the teams ranged from three to above 20 mem- across any given construct.
bers, having an average of six to 10 (Standard Deviation ¼
1.47). For all of the team members (excluding team leaders),
48.9% were female and 50% were male (1.1% did not clarify The Measurement Model
their gender). The percentages of different ethnic groups To assess the components of the measurement scales, a con-
among the team members were: Malay 25.1, Chinese 58, firmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed, based on the
Indian 16, and others 0.9. The degree of experience in the procedure of Chin (2010), to assess the reliability, convergent
construction industry pertaining to the team members validity, and discriminant validity of the scales (see Tables 1
revealed that 55% had one to five years of experience and and 2). Table 1 shows the results of CMV.
33.6% had six to 10. In terms of education, 71.7% had a The AVE for all constructs was more than 0.5 and the CR of
bachelor’s degree or higher, 22.4% had acquired a diploma the constructs was above 0.7. These values are above the min-
from junior colleges, and 5.9% graduated from technical sec- imum recommended levels, so as a result CMV was not been
ondary schools or others. Furthermore, 61.9% of the team deemed to be an issue in this study (Fornell & Larcker, 1981;
leaders were male and 66.7% had six years or more experi- Gefen, Straub, & Boudreau, 2000). Also, as revealed by Table
ence in the industry. The percentages of different ethnicities 1, most of the item loadings were close to or larger than 0.7 and
for team leaders were: Malay 28.6, Chinese 43.7, Indian 27, significant at 0.01. The items for the cooperative style of con-
and others 0.8. With regard to their educational levels, 77.8% flict management exhibited the lowest CR of 0.7891; even so,
had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the rest had graduated all values were higher than the recommended standard values.
from junior colleges. The results confirmed convergent validity, as all indicators
loaded significantly higher onto their particular hypothesized
component as compared to other factors (own construct load-
Data Analysis and Results ings were greater than cross loadings; see Chin, 2010). The
To analyze the data and evaluate the hierarchical hypothesized Fornell-Larcker criterion approach was used to assess discri-
model, Smart PLS path modeling (PLS-PM) was used, with a minant validity. The square root of the AVEs were calculated
path-weighting scheme for inside approximation (Chin, 2010; and compared with the latent variable correlations. The results,
Tenenhaus, Vinzi, Chatelin, & Lauro, 2005; Wetzels, Schroder, which are presented in Table 2, demonstrate discriminant
& Oppen, 2009). Subsequently, nonparametric bootstrapping validity, as the square root of each construct’s AVE was higher
was employed with 500 replications in order to be able to attain than its largest correlation, compared with any other construct
the standard estimate errors (Chin, 2010). To assess the higher in the model (Chin, 2010; Fornell & Larcker, 1981). Further-
order latent variables, the method of repeated indicators was more, there was no correlation higher than 0.9 among the con-
also applied, as outlined by Wold (1985), Lohmöller (1989), structs observed (Chin, 2010), except for the compromising
and Efron and Tibshiran (1993). style of conflict management construct, which was exactly
Tabassi et al. 7

Table 1. Common Method Variance coordination, being significant at the 0.1 level. So, H3 has
been rejected and there is support for the alternative hypoth-
Construct Item Loading AVE CR
esis to H3, which can be refined as: The avoiding conflict
Accommodating Accom1 0.5639 0.5647 0.8339 management approach within the TMC organization under-
Avoiding Accom2 0.6625 taking projects is positively related to effective team coordi-
Competitive Accom3 0.9121 nation. However, the accommodating conflict management
Compromising Accom4 0.8186 style showed a negative relationship with team coordination,
Cooperative Avoid1 0.7223 0.5311 0.8189
Avoid2 0.7824
but it was not statistically significant. So, H4 was not
Avoid3 0.6986 supported.
Avoid4 0.7089
Comp1 0.8344 0.5571 0.8334
Comp2 0.7104 Mediating Effects
Comp3 0.7464
Comp4 0.686 In Figure 2, the mediating effect of team coordination on the
Compro1 0.8217 0.8105 0.9028 relationship between the conflict management styles and
Compro3 0.8297 team performance was analyzed, and H7: team coordination
Compro4 0.8978 mediates between conflict management approaches and
Coop1 0.7698 0.5045 0.7891 team performance within the TMC organization was tested.
Coop2 0.6545
Three criteria for mediation analysis were established as
Coop3 0.6982
Coop4 0.6553 follows:
Team Performance PER1 0.6771 0.5269 0.8988
PER2 0.7675  Two independent variables (avoiding and cooperative
PER3 0.6978 styles of conflict management) had a significant effect
PER4 0.6805 on the mediator (team coordination);
PER5 0.7638  The mediator (team coordination) had a significant
PER6 0.6953 influence on the dependent variable (team perfor-
PER7 0.7222 mance); and
PER8 0.7931
 Two independent variables (avoiding and cooperative
Team Coordination TeamCo1 0.798 0.5044 0.7947
TeamCo2 0.6769 styles of handling conflict) had a significant influence
TeamCo3 0.603 on the dependent variable in the absence of the influence
TeamCo4 0.7205 of the mediator.
Note: CR ¼ composite reliability; AVE ¼ average variance extracted. To set up the mediating influence, the indirect impact of a  b
(see Figure 2) must be significant.
0.9. As a result, the proposed model was deemed to be satis- The z-statistics test (Sobel, 1982) was employed, which was
factory, with proof of sufficient reliability, convergent validity, significant at p < 0.05. If the z values surpass 1.96 (p < 0.05),
and discriminant validity, and was accepted for evaluating the then H2 can be accepted—that is, there is an indirect effect
hypotheses and validating the research model. from the conflict management style (in this particular case,
avoiding and cooperative styles of handling conflict), through
team coordination, on team performance. The z values are
Assessment of the Structural Model calculated as follows:
In Table 3, the results give a standardized beta of 0.24 from the ab
z ¼ qffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi ðEquation 2Þ
avoiding style of conflict management to team coordination, b2  sa2 þ a 2  sb2 þ sa2  sb2
0.63 from cooperative style to team coordination, 0.11 from
cooperative style to team performance, and 0.35 from team 0:626  0:35
za ¼ qffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
coordination to team performance. ð0:35  0:0573Þ þ ð0:626 2  0:0785Þ2 þ ð0:0573 2  0:0785Þ2
2 2

Thus, there was support for H6: team coordination is posi- ¼ 4:113
tively related to team performance within the TMC organiza-
tion and for the alternative to H1: the cooperative conflict 0:236  0:35
zb ¼ qffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
management approach within the TMC organization undertak- ð0:35  0:0687Þ þ ð0:236 2  0:0785Þ2 þ ð0:0687 2  0:0785Þ2
2 2

ing projects is positively related to effective team coordination. ¼ 2:68

The other two conflict management approaches, which showed
some positive relationship with team coordination, competitive As displayed in Figure 2, there was a significant effect
and compromising, were not statistically significant. Hence, from the cooperative conflict management style on team coor-
H2 and H5 are not supported. The results showed that the dination (0.626, p < 0.01), as well as from team coordination
avoiding conflict management style positively related to team on team performance (0.35, p < 0.01). The z value was greater
8 Project Management Journal 50(1)

Table 2. Correlations Among Constructs

Accommodating Avoiding Competitive Compromising Cooperative Performance Team Coordination

Accommodate 0.7523*
Avoid 0.5297 0.7288*
Competitive 0.4426 0.5145 0.7473*
Compromise 0.526 0.4361 0.4858 0.9003*
Cooperative 0.192 0.1147 0.1467 0.0536 0.7173*
Team 0.1306 0.297 0.2896 0.2297 0.2524 0.7258*
Team Coordination 0.2352 0.3075 0.265 0.2027 0.6499 0.3492 0.7102*
Note: *Square root of the AVE on the diagonal.

Table 3. Total Effects

Beta Value t-Value p-Value Standard Error

Accommodate -> Team Performance –0.0088 0.2583 0.796 0.0339

Accommodate -> Team Coordination –0.0251 0.2809 0.779 0.0894
Avoid -> Team Performance 0.302 2.3387 0.019 0.0352
Avoid -> Team Coordination 0.236 3.4346 0.0006 0.0687
Competitive Conflict -> Team Performance 0.0036 0.1091 0.913 0.0334
Competitive Conflict -> Team Coordination 0.0104 0.1201 0.904 0.0869
Compromise -> Team Performance 0.0138 0.3772 0.706 0.0367
Compromise -> Team Coordination 0.0396 0.4207 0.674 0.0942
Cooperative Conflict -> Team Performance 0.107 4.1009 ******* 0.053
Cooperative Conflict -> Team Coordination 0.6262 10.8735 ******* 0.0573
Team Coordination -> Team Performance 0.3492 4.4469 ******* 0.0785

than 1.96 (p < 0.05); consequently, the result confirms the

ab 0:236  0:35
mediating role of team coordination, indicating that it has VAFb ¼ ¼ ¼ 0:215
an indirect effect on team performance—hence, H7 is a  b þ c 0:236  0:35 þ 0:302
There was also a significant effect from the avoiding con-
flict management style on team coordination (0.236, p < 0.01) Results and Discussion
as well as from team coordination on team performance
(0.35, p < 0.01, see Figure 2). The z value also exceeds 1.96 Team leaders’ conflict management styles were framed as hier-
(p < 0.05). archical constructs, with the results indicating that two dimen-
To approximate the size of the indirect effect in the model, sions (cooperative and avoiding styles) exert significant
the variance accounted for (VAF) value was calculated, which positive influence on team coordination. This result adds the-
oretical support for Ayoko (2016), Tjosvold (2008) and Chen,
represents the ratio of the indirect effect to the total effect. The
Hou, and Wu (2016), who acknowledged the aforesaid two
VAF value for the first model (see Figure 2) shows that almost
conflict management styles as methods that result in enhanced
67.1% of the total effect of the cooperative conflict manage-
team performance. This contradicts the findings of Chen and
ment style on team performance is explained by an indirect
Tjosvold (2002), in relation to the impact of the avoiding style.
effect (team coordination).
In other words, the cooperative and avoiding conflict manage-
ab 0:626  0:35 ment styles are those that are strongly linked to enhanced team
VAFa ¼ ¼ ¼ 0:671
a  b þ c 0:626  0:35 þ 0:107 performance in temporary project organizations in the con-
ðEquation 3Þ struction industry, which has not been studied well by preced-
ing research.
The VAF value for the second model (see Figure 2) indi- The prior literature suggests that the creation of such orga-
cates that nearly 21.5% of the total effect of the avoiding con- nizations in the construction industry presents complex settings
flict management style on team performance is accounted for for effective management and leadership due to the dynamic
by the indirect effect (team coordination). and complex organizational, project, and skill requirements
Tabassi et al. 9

accommodating or competitive conflict resolution styles in

order to achieve better team performance. The project teams
Performance may not find enough time for communication and mutual inter-
(0.123) action, rather, the team leaders need to look for some consensus
0.35 (t =4.447)
or even a sense of quick completion in order to reach a solution.
Although accommodating and competitive conflict manage-
ment styles showed positive relationships with team coordina-
Team tion, which are against the initial expectation that hypothesized
Coordination c 0.107 (t =4.41) a negative relationship, these relationships were not statisti-
(0.426) cally significant. It can be concluded, therefore, that there are
a no significant relationships between compromising, competi-
tive, and accommodating conflict management styles and team
0.626 (t =10.87)
coordination and, accordingly, on team performance.
Cooperative Based on the initial investigation of the effects of the five
Conflict Style conflict management styles on team coordination, the study
found that only avoiding and cooperative approaches showed
Model (a)
a significant contribution to team performance, through the
mediation of team coordination. As a result, models were gen-
erated and tested to identify the effects of each of the aforesaid
Team two conflict management styles on team coordination and team
Performance performance—with the results revealing that of these two ways
of managing conflict, the cooperative style (b ¼ 0.6262) is the
0.35 (t =4.447) most significant influence, accompanied by avoiding conflict
b resolution (b ¼ 0.236), on team coordination.
Team In addition, the study has explored the unique role of con-
Coordination flict management, team coordination, and team performance in
c 0.302 (t =2.34)
(0.088) a nomological network, a measure that has not been demon-
strated in prior research reported in the extant literature. Our
study reveals that the cooperative and avoiding conflict man-
0.236 (t = 3.43) agement styles have significant influence on team coordination
Avoiding (R2 ¼ 0.408), which in turn has an influence on team perfor-
Conflict Style mance (R2 ¼ 0.205). In this interdependence, 67% and 21.5%
of the influence of the cooperative and avoiding conflict man-
Model (b) agement resolutions, respectively, on team performance is
mediated by team coordination. This finding suggests that team
Figure 2. Results of hypotheses testing. coordination has a crucial mediating role in the relationship
between the conflict management style adopted by team lead-
(Tabassi et al., 2017). In response to this, team leaders will ers and the effectiveness of team performance. In addition,
have the ability to deal with this dynamism and complexity cooperative and avoiding conflict management styles have a
and to enhance teamwork accomplishments by employing rel- direct impact on team performance, together with team coordi-
evant conflict management styles. In line with situational the- nation, and both constructs explain 20.5% of the variance in
ory, different circumstances may very well necessitate distinct team performance.
leadership behavior by team leaders. Therefore, the condition By using the method of repeated indicators, as recom-
in which a project team is performing in a temporary organi- mended by Wold (1985), to identify the higher order latent
zation may well influence the appropriate conflict management variables, this particular study has verified fundamental dimen-
style to be adopted by the project team leader. sions and structural solutions for the suggested research model.
Whereas some earlier research found a negative relationship It makes significant contributions to knowledge and practice by
between the accommodating conflict management style and proposing the avoiding conflict style, along with cooperative
team performance (Kuhn & Poole, 2000; Liu et al., 2009), our conflict resolution approaches, in temporary project environ-
study found no such statistically significant relationship. In ments in the construction industry of Malaysia. Furthermore,
addition, the two other conflict management styles, competi- assessing the hierarchical conflict management styles of coop-
tive and compromising, had no significant relationship with erating and avoiding, integrating their impact on team coordi-
either team coordination or team performance. These results nation, and evaluating the influence of both styles on team
may be due to the fact that in such temporary project organi- performance is a further contribution of the study in both
zations there are certain situations that will ask for knowledge and practice.
10 Project Management Journal 50(1)

Cooperative A Cooperative
People Lose/Project Win Win/Win
Project Win/People Partially Win
Avoiding Avoiding
Concern for Project Performance
People Lose/Project Win Win/Win

Compromising D
Avoiding Partially Win/Partially Win Avoiding
Project Partially Win/ People Win/Project
People Lose C Avoiding Partially Win
Partially Win/Partially Win

People Win/Project Lose
Avoiding Avoiding
People Lose/Project Lose People Partially Win/Project Lose
People Win/Project Lose
Low Concern for People High

Figure 3. Possible outcomes for people and project from five conflict management styles.

Given that prior research has mainly focused on exploring Then it could be later addressed using more active styles, such
the negative impact of conflict on project performance (Har- as cooperation. An avoidance approach could be viewed as a
mon, 2003; Mitkus & Mitkus, 2014; Tazelaar & Snijders, 2010; flexible and pragmatic approach, putting a temporary lid on
Yiu & Cheung, 2006), the suggested positive relationships things, while a lasting solution is found (Fisher, Ury, & Patton,
found in our study between certain conflict management styles, 2011). When differing opinions exist among members of the
especially avoiding, highlights potential team-based strategies temporary organization, it might be useful to note them and
for enhancing the performance in certain multicultural project then seek to resolve the conflict later. This is an alternative to a
environments in East Asia. passive, avoiding conflict management style, which typically
The positive impact of the cooperating style of conflict implies not dealing with the conflict at all. Rather, it is avoiding
resolution reflects the fact that many project team leaders direct confrontation or argument in order to seek a better time
typically have a democratic or caring leadership style and that or a more suitable occasion to deal with the conflict.
they engage in open and direct communication with all the Synthesizing the findings of the study with those in the
parties that make up the temporary organization. Accordingly, extant literature help the authors propose Figure 3 in order to
finding such a positive relationship between this style of con- generate a matrix on possible outcomes for the project and team
flict handling and team coordination is not unexpected and members from the five conflict-handling styles. In this figure
indeed lends support to the findings from related studies of there are 13 transactional results that can take place in conflict
other organizational contexts (Ayoko, 2016; Chen & Tjos- management resolution, with two of these conflict management
vold, 2002; Fehr & Gachter, 2000; Sanders & Schyns, 2006; styles being ideal strategies to ensure win-win scenarios where
Tjosvold et al., 2003, 2005). the concerns of both project and people are met.
The finding that avoidance, as an approach, may be a good Whereas the majority of prior literature states that the avoid-
choice to reach better team coordination and, accordingly, bet- ing conflict style is a lose-lose scenario, the findings of our
ter team performance, suggests that in temporary organiza- study allow us to accept that there could be situations in which
tions, conflict management could be considered a situational both the project and the individual parties within the temporary
management practice, in that different styles may be related to organization achieve some of their goals, even though one side
different team characteristics, such as being multicultural. wins slightly, or even a great deal, more from the avoiding of
Accordingly, there may be certain situations, for example, in conflict than the other. The study also highlights that the dif-
which one party in the temporary organization is demonstrating ferent win-win situations linked to the avoiding conflict style—
a high level of negative emotion, such as anger or frustration, represented by boxes A, B, C, and D in Figure 3—are what is
where perhaps in the short term, the avoiding style is best for typically suggested by mutuality in avoiding conflictual
the project . Whereas it is accepted that avoidance, as a passive relationships.
method of coping with conflicts, could possibly worsen the
unfavorable effects of a conflict, which may result in one’s
ideas and opinions not being effectively voiced in the conflict Conclusion
condition (Chen, Hou, et al., 2016), there may a case where an The main purpose of this research was to evaluate the effects of
initial avoidance approach lets a negative situation diffuse. the conflict management styles that are adopted by team
Tabassi et al. 11

leaders in temporary organizations with multicultural teams in Funding

the construction industry on team coordination and, accord- The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
ingly, on team performance. Hence, the article has examined and/or publication of this article.
the mediating impacts of team coordination on conflict man-
agement and team performance. The findings show that team
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14 Project Management Journal 50(1)

Yang, M.-Y., Cheng, F.-C., & Chuang, A. (2013). The role of affects construction human resource management and development,
in conflict frames and conflict management. International Journal teamwork, and sustainable housing development. He has more
of Conflict Management, 26(4), 427–449. than 20 International Scientific Indexing (ISI) and Scopus jour-
Yiu, K. T. W., & Cheung, S. O. (2006). A catastrophe model of construc- nal publications, more than 22 indexed, peer-reviewed journal
tion conflict behavior. Building and Environment, 41(4), 438–447. and conference proceedings, and a number of published book
Yousefi, S., Hipel, K. W., & Hegazy, T. (2010). Attitude-based stra- chapters. He has led four research projects in the areas of
tegic negotiation for conflict management in construction projects. transformational leadership, conflict management, and project
Project Management Journal, 41(4), 99–107. management challenges in the construction industry. He can be
Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations. Upper Saddle River, contacted at
NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall.
Zalesny, M. D., Salas, E., & Prince, C. (1995). Conceptual and mea- Aldrin Abdullah, PhD, is a professor at USM and has served
surement issues in coordination: Implications for team behavior the university for 18 years. He obtained his master’s and doc-
and performance. Research in Personnel and Human Resources toral degrees from the University of Sheffield. His areas of
Management, 13, 81–115. interest include crime prevention and housing designs as well
Zartman, I., & Touval, S. (1985). International mediation: Conflict as the management of parks and recreational spaces. He has
resolution and power politics. Journal of Social Issues, 41, 27–45. published more than 100 papers, mainly on those topics. He is
Zhang, X.-A., Cao, Q., & Tjosvold, D. (2011). Linking transforma- currently the dean of the School of Housing, Building, and Plan-
tional leadership and team performance: A conflict management ning at USM and was also the deputy director of the Interna-
approach. Journal of Management Studies, 48(7), 1586–1611. tional Development Division of USM before that. Aldrin
Abdullah is also actively involved in various consultancy proj-
Author Biographies ects, mainly in the areas of housing and planning. He can be
contacted at
Amin Akhavan Tabassi, PhD, is currently an associate pro-
fessor at the School of Housing, Building, and Planning, Uni- David James Bryde, PhD, is professor of project management
versiti Sains Malaysia (USM), an honorary lecturer at the at LJMU, United Kingdom. He studied management sciences/
University of Liverpool, and a visiting research fellow at Liver- computing at Lancaster and Bradford, UK, and completed a
pool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University doctorate in project management at LJMU. He is particularly
(LJMU), United Kingdom. He holds a doctoral degree in proj- interested in relational/psychosocial aspects of project teams,
ect management, has a master’s degree in project management, lean and agile approaches to project management, sustainable
and a bachelor of science in civil engineering. He has more than procurement in projects, and the management of the temporary
13 years of experience in the areas of civil engineering and organization set up to deliver projects. He is widely published
construction management. He has also been bestowed the glob- in more than a hundred journal papers, research monographs,
ally recognized Project Management Professional (PMP)® cer- and book chapters, and has contributed to numerous conference
tification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). His presentations, invited keynote speeches, guest lectures, and
research interests extend to the areas of leadership, conflict expert interviews. He can be contacted at D.J.Bryde@ljmu.
management, contract and procurement management,