Human Systems team culture

Creating a great team culture means you have to manage conflict

Recently, I’ve been coming across a lot of interesting research on empowering leadership, psychological empowerment, and affective commitment in the workplace. So far, I’ve written about how psychological empowerment can increase affective commitment, and how affective commitment can increase employee retention rates. It turns out conflict management may have a role as well.

Some definitions

According to the research, empowering leadership consists of a set of behaviors that are directed to an entire team or group, and include delegating authority, holding employees accountable, involving employees in decision-making, encouraging self-management of work, and conveying confidence in employees’ ability to handle challenging work.

There are four parts to psychological empowerment: employees believe that their work is meaningful outside of the organization; that their work effects significant change (impact); that they have autonomy and can make important decisions about their work; and that they do their work well (competent).

Affective commitment speaks to how emotionally attached an employee is to their organization and has been shown to be significantly related to turnover. Individuals who identify positively with their organization and feel good about working there tend to stay.

Cultural effects, conflict, and team culture

According to a recent article by Chen, Shapiro, and Farh in the Journal of Applied Psychology, empowering leadership does lead to higher rates psychological empowerment, which leads to more affective commitment; and this confirms previous research.

What is particularly interesting about this article is the author’s study of the effects of conflict management and East/West culture differences on team culture. The researchers found that when conflict on the team was high, the effects of empowering leadership were significantly reduced. In addition, they found that this effect was about equal for both the sample from the U.S. sample and the sample form the People’s Republic of China (PRC), indicating that the effects of empowering leadership on teams could work for individuals from both Eastern and Western cultures.

The authors hypothesize that, based on the results, leaders who actively manage team conflict to keep it low will see more positive effects from empowering leadership behaviors. They also think that this study could indicate that empowering leadership behaviors could work well for individuals from both individualistic (i.e. Western/U.S.) and collectivistic (i.e. Eastern/PRC cultures), although this and other studies indicate that individual-level values may cause different levels of resistance or acceptance to empowering leadership.


This is just one study, but based on the this and other studies, empowering leadership behaviors could lead to a more effective and productive team, as well as increased employee retention rates. However, actively managing conflict may be critical to see the results.

Learn More

This article is part of the Human Systems Organizational Health Leadership Principle series: 15 principles that relate to the overall health of your organization. Other Human Systems Leadership Principles are contained in the Change Management, Community Embedding, Mutual Empowerment, and Ethics categories.

HS Leadership Principle #12: Promotes a culture in which regular praise is given for employees’ efforts and accomplishments.

Contact Human Systems to learn more about empowering leadership and conflict management solutions for your organization.

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