Conflict in Capstone Design Teams: Sources, Management, and the Role of the Instructor

TitleConflict in Capstone Design Teams: Sources, Management, and the Role of the Instructor
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsHurst, A., and M. Mostafapour
Conference LocationRochester, NY
AbstractTeam conflict can severely impact capstone design teams’ effectiveness and project outcomes. While previous studies have identified common sources of conflict in capstone design project teams, they have mostly relied on instructors accounts of these conflicts. In this paper we present the results of a comprehensive survey of students in the capstone courses of eleven engineering disciplines at a Canadian university. Twenty-two percent of respondents reported having experienced significant conflict in their teams, typically resulting from role ambiguity, ineffective communication, relationship conflict, ineffective project management, and poor team membership behavior. Of those, seventy-six percent reported that team conflict(s) were eventually resolved. Unresolved conflicts were due to teams’ passive approach to conflict management, such as not trying to resolve the conflict or not requesting the intervention of the course instructor until very late in the course. Only twenty-six percent of students in conflict-ridden teams reported having notified the instructor; of those, seventy-two percent were satisfied with the instructor’s intervention. Those that did not notify the instructor were worried about the impact that “reporting” a teammate would have on him/her and team’s future relationship with that teammate. Capstone instructors can constructively assist capstone teams to identify and manage conflict by providing both structured training and need-based interventions.