Conflict in IT Project Teams


The present paper aims to reveal four major sources of conflict about IT and IS spheres and offer strategic measures to address them. As a result of a literature review, it was discovered that role perception, socio-political, cultural, and structural origins of the conflict were identified as being among the most relevant in the scientific field. Role perception and cultural conflict origins were logically attributed to the category of interpersonal conflicts, and socio-political and structural were identified as belonging to the administrative category.

Also, the literature review as well as personal experience helped to identify three strategies for each of the sources of conflict. In short, role perception can be addressed with an adjustment to corporate culture, personnel training, or team building. Socio-political challenges can be tackled by way of clear role definition, increased managerial participation, and collaborative corporate culture. Cultural clashes can be mitigated by training, communication frequency, and the introduction of cultural competence. Finally, structural conflict can be managed through a unified digital environment, training, and adjusted hiring policies.


Information systems (IS) and information technology (IT) teams are often required to perform under significant stress and may be affected by other factors at the same time as they are expected to deliver high-quality products. In such circumstances, conflicts frequently arise that degrade the work of the whole unit, negatively affecting the development process. Given the paramount nature of this issue, a scholarly approach is needed to help address the problem and identify practical solutions. This paper will provide an examination of major scientific findings on sources of conflict in conjunction with conflict categories to produce adequate strategies for conflict mediation.

Literature Review

While a sufficient body of research discusses methods of conflict management, researchers occasionally place the source of conflict outside the boundaries of a study. However, adequate identification of antecedents is imperative in constructing a dialogue between the different sides of a disagreement. Thus, a study by Xihui, Stafford, Dhaliwal, and Gillenson (2014) named a lack of mutual role recognition as a major source of conflict between software testers and developers.

The study used mixed methods to obtain and analyze self-reported data from the two stakeholders in IT projects. Overall, the researchers assessed and coded 50 scenarios in which three components of conflict emerged: process, people, and communication. The authors suggested that both programmers and testers failed to value the input of the opposing group, leading to frequent disruptions in interpersonal communication and hampering the development process (Xihui et al., 2014).

The reported hostility arose primarily due to the programmers’ overemphasis on their achievement and impact and the testing team’s lack of knowledge and professional qualities as well as an overly protective attitude toward code quality. The researchers concluded that the complete elimination of this source of conflict would be impossible due to the vast gap between the two professional communities. Nonetheless, the conflict could be managed, provided that the team leaders understood the nature of the disagreement’s antecedent.

Beck (2014) studied and documented another source of conflict in the IT-sphere. The study was set in the context of global outsourcing for large international informational systems development (ISD) projects. As a result of the qualitative analysis of 25 interviews, the author identified culture as the core antecedent of misunderstandings and occasional hostilities in this setting. Due to high stakeholder diversity, management, developers, testers, and vendors often struggled to find common ground on a variety of issues concerning the development process, communication, maintenance, and other project-related activities.

Also, Beck (2014) reported that adequate management, workforce training, and standardization all helped to alleviate the problem. While cultural clashes were the major cause of conflict for international teams, which is coherent with other findings in the sphere, the researcher suggested that the paramount nature and relevance of this matter stemmed from a lack of managerial intervention. In most of the interviews, interviewees claimed, for example, that Indian programmers who underwent training in German or Spanish IT companies functioned normally within the European corporate environment. Thus, the cultural source of conflict appeared to be highly manageable.

Meissonier and Houzé (2010) conducted another prominent study devoted to conflict in IT teams. The results of this two-year action research in Netia Corporation revealed that conflict arising from social and political roots were among the company’s core concerns. While employees tended to obscure their motivations for conflict, these were evident from the behaviors elicited by the differing sides.

Thus, the loss, shift, or continuous struggle for power and autonomy among the members of one group or different groups resulted in frequent tensions that obstructed communication and performance. The socio-political conflicts were aggravated by the fact that management was frequently unaware of the needs of developers or testers. In response, the authors noted that the clarification of functions and spheres of authority could alleviate if not eliminate this source of conflict.

Yet another study by Filippova and Cho (2015) identified, among other factors, the structural source of conflict as key within the context of free and open-source software (FOSS) development. Contrary to the existing paradigms that classify conflict sources, the unique FOSS environment with its completely virtual teams and communications added new challenges to contemporary conflict resolution theory.

Consequently, as a result of 16 interviews with FOSS developers, structural issues were found to be among the key sources of misunderstandings (Filippova & Cho, 2015). Time zones, multiple communication channels, and other nuances constantly became reasons for minor misconduct and misunderstandings. Thus, the authors concluded that the elaboration of new frameworks of conflict management is needed to address the issues of novel IT environments.

Categories and Sources of Conflict

By the latest studies presented in the literature review section, four prominent sources of conflict were identified: role perception, social and political issues, cultural differences, and structural origins. The significance of role perception is obvious; in any IT or IS projects it is necessary to test the product before final deployment. Fixing bugs and defects has been reported to reduce the cost of development and maintenance up to 100 times (Xihui et al., 2014).

By its nature, this source of disagreement pertains to the category of interpersonal conflicts. The crucial scope of socio-political sources of conflict can be explained by the need for the development of clear and unambiguous communication and reporting patterns. Organizational and project success often relies on the clarity of each role in the group, which requires taking action to address this source of conflict. Socio-political collisions may be attributed to the category of administrative conflicts.

Cultural struggles are becoming ever more relevant due to increasing globalization in the IT-sphere and frequently practiced international outsourcing of talents. This source may be linked with the interpersonal conflict category as it often takes place between individuals (Meissonier & Houzé, 2010). Conflicts resulting from structural issues are critical to consider within the realm of teleworking projects. The success of such endeavors is often dependent on workflow consistency and meeting deadlines that may be impacted by technical issues. Structural conflicts can be attributed to the administrative category.

Strategies for Conflict Resolution

Xihui et al. (2014) argued that a strategy to resolve misconduct arising from inadequate role perception can be based on adjusting corporate culture in a way to support collaboration and positive communication. Another way to address this issue is to establish proper personnel training mechanisms (Proksch, 2016), which encourages unanimity in corporate values. A third measure calls for managers to arrange team-building efforts that honor each professional’s contribution.

Socio-political struggles can be tackled by clarifying instructions and roles for subordinates as suggested by Meissonier and Houzé (2010). Another suggested strategy involves updating the qualifications of senior management to help them to become more knowledgeable and attentive to the needs of project teams. Also, this source of conflict can be managed through a corporate culture that nurtures collaboration instead of competition.

Cultural clashes, endemic to organizational practice on an international scale, can be resolved by organizational training (Beck, 2014). It is possible to reveal and address more subtle cultural misunderstandings through an increased frequency of communication among managers and employees. In this manner, executives will have more chances to identify conflicts early. Another way to handle such conflicts is to teach cultural competence to employees and management or to seek to hire personnel with such skills.

Structural misconduct could be primarily overcome by establishing a unified environment for development and communication. Also, standardization benefits can aid in curbing technological gaps and time losses. Another strategy is to form teams with similar skills and geographical locations to eliminate or at least mitigate the challenges presented by a far-flung operation. Also, even though they would be unlikely to yield sufficient results for short virtual projects, it would be possible to implement training initiatives to avert the potential for conflict in longer-term ventures.


Beck, R. (2014). ‘Looking for trouble’ in global information systems development and new product development outsourcing projects. In F. Rowe & D. Te’eni (Eds.), Innovation and IT in an international context: R&D strategy and operations (pp. 236-248). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Filippova, A., & Cho, H. (2015). Mudslinging and manners: Unpacking conflict in free and open source software. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work & social computing (pp. 1393-1403). Vancouver, Canada.

Meissonier, R., & Houzé, E. (2010). Toward an ‘IT conflict-resistance theory’: Action research during IT pre-implementation. European Journal of Information Systems, 19(5), 540-561.

Proksch, S. (2016). Conflict management. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.

Xihui, Z., Stafford, T., Dhaliwal, J., & Gillenson, M. (2014). Sources of conflict between software developers and testers: A comparison and an integration of two models. Issues in Information Systems, 18(3), 53-61.

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