Two Student Workshops on Identifying and Resolving Teamwork Conflict

TitleTwo Student Workshops on Identifying and Resolving Teamwork Conflict
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsAl-Hammoud, R., M. Barichello, C. Rennick, E. Jobidon, and R. Li
Conference NameASEE Annual Conference and Exposition

Conflict is a natural part of working in teams, yet students are not typically given formal instruction on conflict management. Many students thus lack the knowledge, skill, and confidence to identify and/or resolve conflict. The university of X (UX) has developed a series of six-teamwork workshops delivered to engineering students at different undergraduate academic levels to help progress the different aspects of teamwork. The workshops wrap around existing team projects in courses; students can thus authentically apply what they have learned in the workshops to their current or future teams. This paper focuses on two out of the six workshops: “Introduction to Conflict” and “Conflict Resolution”. The paper will describe the iterations that these workshops have undergone as well as classroom implementation and evaluation.

The first workshop uses Tuckman’s stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning) to introduce students to the natural progression of team formation and functionality. While the objective of many teams may be to avoid conflict at all costs, conflict, and the storming phase can play an important role in improving team performance if it is understood and appropriately managed. This workshop focuses on improving communication within the team in order to mitigate conflict. Students are introduced to the D.E.S.C. model as a framework for handling difficult conversations, in which students D.: Describe the difficulty, E.: Express how the behavior is affecting the team, S.: Specify desired outcomes/behavior changes, C.: state Consequences if changes are not made.

The second workshop introduces students to different types of conflict-handling strategies based on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. The five styles include accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing, and compromising. Each team receives a scenario which provides two perspectives on a conflict. Students learn to identify and list the factors that may contribute to or cause the conflict, then identify and list which attributes seem to be lacking and contributing to conflict within the team. They then consider the possible positive and negative outcomes of each of the five conflict handling styles which leads them to choose the most appropriate handling style and related strategies.

These workshops were implemented 13 times since 2017 across five different engineering programs. Based on the students’ feedback through online surveys, reflection and classroom observations, the workshops were found to be helpful for improving team cohesion and resolving conflicts.