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Enhancing Design Team Interaction by Understanding Communication Styles

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Creating and Maintaining Effective Communication Learning in the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.529.1 - 23.529.20



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Paper Authors


Gregg L. Fiegel California Polytechnic State University

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Dr. Gregg L. Fiegel is a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He is a registered professional engineer in California, and he serves as the ASCE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor. Dr. Fiegel received his B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly in 1990. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Davis in 1992 and 1995, respectively.

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Enhancing Design Team Performance by Understanding Communication StylesAbstractTo provide instruction on effective communication in a civil engineering senior design course,the authors enlisted the support of an organizational coach to incorporate exercises where thestudents learn to understand different personalities, communication styles, and levels ofassertiveness. Other instructors have used Myers-Briggs or similar personality assessments as ameans of illustrating the importance of understanding different personalities in teamcommunication. The authors decided to use a method whereby the student assesses his or herown "communication style," which is based primarily on the degree to which the individual isassertive and outgoing. The method defines four predominant communication styles withinformal and easy to remember names: "medic" (amiable, harmony seeker), "cheerleader"(expressive, excitement seeker), "computer" (analytical, detail seeker), and "steamroller" (driver,results seeker). The method could be incorporated into any course where the instructors desire tointegrate exercises on communication and teamwork.Early in the course, the class is divided into six-person teams. The course coordinators assignteams based on a number of factors including academic performance, academic background,preferred civil engineering emphasis area, and practical engineering experience. The teams havenot traditionally been assigned based on communication style. After being assigned to a team,each student then evaluates his or her predominant communication style. The students theninvestigate how their teammates' styles differ from their own. The students learn techniques fortailoring their own communication style to fit the needs of others. The primary objective of theexercises is to enhance communication among teammates who are preparing to complete a groupdesign project over a five-month period. The paper briefly describes how the authorsincorporated the communication styles exercises into the course.An outcome for the civil engineering program requires that our graduates demonstrate an abilityto function on a multidisciplinary civil engineering team. Under this outcome, the programdefines a performance metric that requires our graduates to demonstrate an ability to evaluatedifferent communication styles. We present the methodology used to assess this performancemetric, along with assessment results gathered over a four-year period. These results play animportant role in the program's assessment and evaluation of the multidisciplinary team outcome.The authors gathered communication style data over a four-year period for over 600 students and100 design teams. The results show that the majority of our civil engineering studentsdemonstrate a predominant communication style corresponding to that of a "computer." Thosestudents demonstrating a "cheerleader" communication style are least represented. In the paper,we examine student performance as a function of communication style. Further, we calculate acommunication style index for all design teams from the past four years. The index, which wedeveloped as part of this study, represents a measure of communication style variation within ateam. Team performance in the course is compared with this index to investigate the importanceof communication in team design work. The authors discuss the results of the comparison andthe pros and cons of using communication style as a factor in assigning design teams.

Fiegel, G. L. (2013, June), Enhancing Design Team Interaction by Understanding Communication Styles Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19543

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