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Conflict Behavior And Its Influence On Engineering Design Teams

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Engineering Design: Implementation and Evaluation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.309.1 - 15.309.12



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Paper Authors

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Xaver Neumeyer Northwestern University


Ann McKenna Northwestern University

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Ann F. McKenna is the Director of Education Improvement in the McCormick School of
Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. She also holds a joint
appointment as a Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy as well as a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and is the co-Director of
the Northwestern Center for Engineering Education Research (NCEER). She received her
BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University and Ph.D. in
Science and Mathematics Education from the University of California at Berkeley.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



Our work is investigating the nature and perceptions of team conflict from the student as well as the faculty perspective through the use of team observations, student and faculty surveys, as well as faculty interviews. In particular, we are interested in determining the most common types of conflicts among students as well as the conflict-management strategies they utilize. Questions asked in the surveys and interviews ranged from general evaluation of teamwork to student and faculty perceptions of productive conflict. The main conflicts that were reported in our study included conflicts of commitment, different ideas about the project direction as well as different working styles. Results from this research will enable us to rethink common models of team conflict and develop direct and indirect intervention strategies that can help students to better integrate emotion and intellect in engineering design and innovation.


Although design projects and course structures may vary, there has been a consistent attempt to integrate team experiences into the engineering design curriculum 1-5. While there has been significant work that describes instructional approaches for integrating and assessing teamwork, very few studies have explored the role that team conflict has on students’ team performance in the context of engineering design education 3, 6.

The current work addresses student and faculty perspectives on team conflict as well as conflict-management strategies. Understanding the mechanics and potential beneficial effects of team conflict offers new insights for engineering educators who emphasize teamwork in their courses or design projects.

Past and current models of team interaction and conflict

The predominant model of group development synthesized by Tuckman describes different stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, performing as well as adjourning 7. However, the issue of team conflict has not been specifically addressed in this model although Maples et al. emphasized that the highest amount of conflict, concern, confrontation and criticism arises in the storming stage8.

To better integrate conflict into the group development process Gemmill and Wynkoop proposed a psychometric model consisting of the following phases and transitions: (1) 'hanging on' which involves intellect only (2) 'working through' which involves emotions only (3) 'letting go', which comes with an agglomeration of intellect and emotions and (4) 'moving beyond' where intellect and emotions are integrated. At any of these points, the group may fail to make the transition, which can consequently lead to regressive solutions such as defensive routines, refusal to deal with emotions or “scapegoating” 9.

Neumeyer, X., & McKenna, A. (2010, June), Conflict Behavior And Its Influence On Engineering Design Teams Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16638

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