Functional conflict is conflict or tension within a group that leads to positive results. "Conflict" often carries a negative connotation, but functional conflict means individuals in a group discuss points of disagreement with a spirit of collaboration.
A common source of functional group conflict is analytical thinking and discussion about decision alternatives. A primary reason companies use work groups is to get different perspectives and ideas for important decisions. As group members lay out options, they share opinions and experiences, and debate the relative pros and cons. While tension may rise, functional conflict means employees remain impersonal and ultimately come to agreement.
Another perceived benefit of functional conflict is increased competition among work group members. In a selling environment, for instance, functional conflict may result when representatives compete to achieve monthly sales targets.
When conflict is functional, individual employees experience personal development and the group as a whole typically has more positive morale. Innovation and creativity are heightened in functional conflict because group members become more aware of their roles and discussions spawn fresh ideas.
The opposite of functional conflict is dysfunctional conflict. With dysfunctional conflict, the group tension becomes more intense and personal, and the results often include lower morale and reduced organizational loyalty.