Teams experience periods of dramatic change, known as revolutionary periods, during their developmental life cycles. These periods have an outsized impact on performance as they provide an opportunity to reconsider and reshape the fundamental assumptions and processes that teams deploy to accomplish their goals. The transient and durable changes to transition, action, and interpersonal processes which occur during revolutionary periods are critical mediators which convert the team’s inputs into outcomes including productivity, group viability, and individual group member satisfaction. Teams are ubiquitous in for-profit organizations, and these organizations are situated in increasingly dynamic and volatile environments. Despite this, little research directly examines how teams cope with this dynamism through interpersonal process adaptations during revolutionary periods. This study explores how, if at all, teams modify their conflict management processes during revolutionary periods. It does so by utilizing a qualitative, multiple-case method to examine changes in the conflict management processes of two teams that had undergone revolutionary periods and emerged with improved performance. The results show that there was not a universal pattern of qualitative changes in conflict management processes or styles during revolutionary periods. Instead, teams engaged in transitory subversion of previous predominant conflict management styles as they addressed urgent threats through unique blends of alternative approaches. Later, both teams transitioned to new, stable blends of conflict management styles in the ensuing period of equilibrium where collaborating predominated. Results also show that teams reduced the level of detail and dynamic complexity in their conflict management processes at the onset of the revolutionary period and incrementally restored complexity as they transitioned to periods of equilibrium. The first conclusion supports both the notion that revolutionary periods create sensitive far from equilibrium states as well as the contingency theory of conflict management. The second conclusion supports structural adaptation theory and the proposition that systems readily transition to states of lower complexity. The generalizability of these conclusions is limited as this study was exploratory, but they offer value to practitioners and researchers alike. They can both inform further inquiry on longitudinal changes in conflict management processes and serve as heuristics guiding leader’s and team member’s actions during revolutionary periods.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Conflict management; Teams in the workplace; Punctuated equilibrium (Evolution)

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

H. Eric Schockman

Included in

Psychology Commons