Teams are a major feature of engineering and are commonly thought to be necessary when solving dynamic and complex problems. Even though teams collectively provide a diversity of knowledge, skills, and perspectives to problem-solving, previous work has demonstrated that in certain scenarios, such as in language-based and more spatially oriented configuration design problems, the production by a team is inferior to that of a similar number of individuals working independently (i.e., nominal team). This research explores this comparison of individual versus group problem-solving within the domain of conceptual engineering design. Thus, a behavioral study was run with freshman engineering students, who solved a conceptual engineering design problem individually or collaboratively in a team. Results corroborate previous findings, exhibiting that individuals outperform teams in the overall quality of their design solutions, even within this more free-flowing and explorative setting of conceptual design. Exploiting this result, this work further considers whether adaptive feedback from a process manager can lessen the underperformance of collaborative design teams compared to individuals, by helping teams overcome potential deterrents that may be contributing to their inferior performance. Teams that are under the guidance of a process manager end up performing better than teams that are not in terms of solution quality, and almost as well as individuals, though not significantly different. This result suggests that process managers are able to mitigate some of the deficiencies in design teams. In an attempt to uncover some of the cognitive rationale and strategies that may be beneficial throughout problem-solving, the managerial interactions with the design teams are then investigated. Furthermore, to determine the reason of the collaborative teams’ underperformance, the effect of verbalization is studied as a possible cognitive hindrance. In the end, this work expands growing research on team problem-solving in engineering, and suggests that collaborative teams may not be optimal in every circumstance, but under the proper process management, can become substantially more effective.
Engineering design Teams Conceptual design Process management
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This work was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFSOR) under Grant nos. FA9550-16-1-0049 and FA9550-18-1-0088. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors. Portions of this work were presented at Design, Computing, and Cognition Conference 2018 and ASME International Design and Engineering Technical Conference 2018.
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