Definition of Intragroup Conflict

There are several varieties of conflict; conflicts can occur between opposing individuals in an argument or within a single individual who struggles with a personal conflict. Intragroup conflict refers to a specific kind of conflict that occurs between members of a group that shares common goals, interests or other identifying characteristics. Intragroup conflict can be small-scale, such as within a workplace or large-scale, such as between members of a specific population group. Though conflict is generally regarded as a problem, intragroup conflict can also serve as a valuable tool in some contexts.


Intragroup conflict is distinctive in that it occurs between members of a group or team who are theoretically united over a common characteristic or objective; in contrast, intergroup conflict occurs between two competing or distinct groups. Intragroup conflicts are most common in workplaces that divide employees into specific teams or departments. An example of intragroup conflict would be members of a marketing group debating about the best way to launch a new product. If the group was experiencing intergroup conflict, the marketing team may argue with the technology development team about the launch. Intragroup conflict is marked by verbal disagreements between group members that could result ultimately in the fracturing of the group into distinct and opposing parts. Groups experiencing intragroup conflict may frequently solicit the input of superiors or show delayed progress in achieving a goal.


The two main forms of intragroup conflict are relationship conflict and task conflict. In an intragroup relationship conflict, members of the group struggle with interpersonal relationships regardless of the task or objects of the group. For example, two members of a marketing team may experience conflict because one member applies a diplomatic approach to communication, while another prefer straightforward and aggressive communication. If a group is experiencing a task conflict, members of the group disagree about the best practices for achieving an objective or struggle to agree on an appropriate objective. For instance, a marketing team may struggle because some members support traditional direct marketing while other members want to experiment with a viral marketing campaign.


In either type of intragroup conflict, members are at risk for damaging personal relationships and failing to achieve goals or objectives. Intragroup conflict can distract group members from producing valuable results as outlined by a superior, which can place group members' jobs at risk. A study by Francisco Medina of the University of Seville in Spain and his colleagues found that high levels of intragroup relationship conflict increased group members' desire to leave their job or company, while high levels of task conflict increased the likelihood that a group would experience relationship conflicts as well. The findings were published in the "Journal of Managerial Psychology" in 2005. Relationship conflicts also contribute to negative affective reactions that can cause emotional distress in group members.


Though the consequences of intragroup conflict can promote job dissatisfaction and diminish personal relationships, some degree of intragroup conflict can prove functional. In a functional intragroup conflict, the result of the conflict is increased communication that could translate to increased productivity. Functional intragroup conflict promotes careful discussion of a variety of ideas that can yield greater or more effective output. Functional conflict is typically task conflict and requires careful group management and communication to prevent the development of relationship conflict.


Prevention of intragroup conflict depends on the degree to which team members are equipped to identify, manage and navigate conflict situations. All group members should receive training in conflict management that promotes the use of active listening, clear communication and effective feedback loops that promote growth rather than punish errors. Some intragroup conflicts require management from an external third party that provides guidance and input during group conflicts. In the event that intragroup conflict cannot be resolved within the group, a superior may choose to dissolve the group to avoid further losses to both productivity and team morale.


About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.