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The Confluence of Information: Teambuilding is not enough to produce successful interdisciplinary teams

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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

Crossing Boundaries - Service Learning and Interdisciplinary Teams

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Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1175.1 - 23.1175.12



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Paper Authors


Edwin R. Schmeckpeper Norwich University

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Edwin Schmeckpeper, P.E. Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Norwich University. Norwich University was the first private school in the United States to offer engineering courses. In addition, Senator Justin Morrill used Norwich University as the model for the Land-Grant colleges created by the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act. Prior to joining the faculty at Norwich University, Dr. Schmeckpeper taught at the University of Idaho, the Land-Grant College for the State of Idaho, and worked as an engineer in design offices and at construction sites.

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Michael Puddicombe Norwich University

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The Confluence of InformationIntroductionMulti-disciplinary collaboration is recognized as a requirement for superior performance in therealization of projects in the built environment (Puddicombe, 2009). However, due to theirdifferent “thought worlds,” collaboration between professionals from different disciplinarybackgrounds is a complex and dynamic process. The result is a lack of synthesis among expertsand a reduction in the learning that is necessary for innovation (Dougherty, 1992). A state of‘contested collaboration’ can result ‘…where team members maintain an outward stance ofcooperation but work to further their own interests, at times sabotaging the collaborative effort.”(Sonnenwald and Pierce, 2000:461). Within the AEC industry this condition appears to be farfrom the exception (Puddicombe, 1997). The requirement for multi-disciplinary collaboration rests on the assumption that, “…nosingle individual (or firm) can acquire the varied and often rapidly expanding informationneeded for success. Individuals (and firms) must work together to collect, analyze, synthesizeand disseminate information throughout the work process.” (Sonnenwald and Pierce, 2000:461)In the context of this research we refer to this as a process of interdisciplinary ‘knowledgecreation’ (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). As is evident in the litigious nature of the AEC industry, collaboration is not an innateskill of architects, engineers and constructors. It has to be learned and professional schools havean obligation to teach it. This paper reports on an effort to develop a theoretical and practicalunderstanding of the issues associated with collaboration and suggest a process by whicheducators within the AEC disciplines can facilitate the learning of this critical skill.The Model Puddicombe (1997) offered evidence that performance within the built environmentrequired a movement away from planning as an isolated linear process(figure 1). An iterativeprocess based on learning was required. Figure 1. Learning Knowledge Feedback LoopWe propose to develop a set of learning modules that facilitate the development of acollaborative learning environment. Our goal is designing a knowledge creation process thatresults in a superior physical (built) product.Learning ModulesWhile all three of the disciplines - Architecture, Civil Engineering, and ConstructionManagement – support the project, the existing engineering, architecture and constructioncurricula make introducing new courses very difficult. Instead, the curriculum content is beingdeveloped as portable interdisciplinary modules, which while discipline responsive, will beadaptable to a range of courses and levels. Since the program centers on the processes andrequirements of producing buildings, the modules are intended for classes where there is athematic connection to design, construction, , or project implementation.The root of this project is knowledge “conversion:” while some of the information required forany project is externalized through design and construction documents, the individual AECdisciplines have different tacit knowledge and objectives (as well as goals and measures ofsuccess). The issues being addressed in the modules are where tacit knowledge for onediscipline is missing or ill-communicated.The modules are developed to promote two kinds of knowledge conversion, either convertingtacit knowledge of one discipline into accessible explicit knowledge for those in otherdisciplines, or through collaborative projects where broader project knowledge becomes tacitacross the disciplines.The proposed learning modules are intended to address the following questions:  What do you need to know to communicate effectively with the other disciplines?  What do you need to know from others in order to do what you want?  What do they need to know from you in order for you to do your job well?  What do they need to know from you in order to do their job well?  How do I get you to invest in my goals?  What are your incentives for the project? What do think are the other disciplines’ incentives for the project?  What are your risks for the project? What do you think are the other disciplines’ risks for the project?The first modules will focus on group interaction, communication, leadership and conflictresolution. These will include a personality self-assessment to help students identify their ownbehaviors with regard to group dynamics. Subsequent modules will involve inter-disciplineknowledge, problem solving , and value assessment. 

Schmeckpeper, E. R., & Puddicombe, M. (2013, June), The Confluence of Information: Teambuilding is not enough to produce successful interdisciplinary teams Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22560

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