What Is Task Conflict?

Task conflict, also called content conflict, refers to issues that occur when employees don't agree about how to perform a certain task or have different understandings of the company's policies and procedures. Task conflict can help make your employees more open with each other if they address it appropriately and promptly. It can also hurt your team's productivity and cause lower morale in the workplace if left uncontrolled.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Task conflict is a type of workplace conflict stemming from disagreements about how to complete job tasks in light of instructions, procedures and policies.

Basics of Task Conflict

Task conflict happens due to disagreements about how to complete work tasks. It can often arise when employees interpret the company's policies and procedures or instructions given for work assignments differently. For example, a project team may have arguments over how to allocate work and which team members should be responsible for specific tasks. A team of accountants and financial analysts may also disagree over how to interpret and report the results of financial data since each member brings a unique perspective.

Task conflict contrasts with the two other common types of conflict: relationship conflict and value conflict. Relationship conflict happens when employees have different personalities or preferences that contrast with each other; for example, you might get frustrated with a coworker who's messy or with an aggressive team member who seems to rush you and pressure you with your work.

On the other hand, value conflict comes from differences in what people think is right or wrong, often based on cultural, ethical, religious or political factors. Value conflict can happen when you're working on a project of a controversial nature or when you're part of a multinational company with a diverse staff.

Effects of Task Conflict

While you may think of conflict as something to avoid as much as possible in your company, task conflict can actually have both negative and positive effects.

When not handled promptly, task conflict can hurt team productivity and the company's bottom line. While employees spend time arguing over who does what and how they should do their work, they're wasting time they could have spent completing their assigned tasks. At the same time, such conflict can erode working relationships and lead to relationship conflict when employees start attributing the issue to their coworkers rather than the actual task at hand.

However, task conflict can encourage employees to be more open to new ideas and even learn to work better together with those who have different preferences and understandings. When employees come together to address task conflict, the group can become more unified and even more productive in the future since team members are building their conflict resolution skills. The key to reaping these benefits is that employees will need to work through the conflict efficiently rather than avoiding or ignoring it.

Preventing and Handling Task Conflict

While you can't expect to prevent all task conflict, you can take some steps to clarify job assignments and company procedures and policies as well as strengthen team bonds. Rather than leaving teams to decide how to allocate job tasks, try specifying roles and responsibilities in the first place. You should also be open and allow employees to have the opportunity to ask questions when they feel unsure about a specific assignment or policy. Lastly, consider team-building exercises and group discussions to increase team identification and reduce destructive conflict.

When task conflict does occur, your employees can often work it out themselves as long as the issue hasn't significantly impacted work activities. However, in some cases, you can alleviate the conflict if you simply clarify the task or responsibilities in question. For more complex or recurrent task conflicts, it helps to get the specific employees together, allow them to specify their positions and reasoning and work toward a mutual understanding or compromise.