Orchestrating conflict in teams with the use of boundary objects and trading zones in innovation-driven engineering design projects

  • Constanza MirandaEmail author
  • Julian Goñi
  • Isabel Hilliger
Original Research Article


While teamwork has been a central concern in engineering education, little research has systematically examined how conflict is managed in engineering teams of students. Socio-constructivism provides a solid base to explain how teamwork can foster innovation through the use of cultural artifacts, such as “boundary objects.” The purpose of this paper describing the anatomy of negotiation within several teams of engineering students located in universities of Northern California and Santiago de Chile from 2010 to 2017. We propose the concept of “conflict orchestration” to explain the dynamics of engineering teams working on innovation-driven engineering design challenges. A context sensitive qualitative research design was deployed using an ethnographic approach to the study team negotiation patterns observed in 11 teams of engineering students from Northern California and Santiago de Chile. The methodological focus was on identifying commonalities in the use of boundary objects and trading zones emerging from the students’ team interaction. Our findings illustrate two distinct strategies that the engineering teams adopted using boundary objects. We describe the use of Sticky Notes and Third Platforms. Finally, we explore students’ perceptions of the educational gain of PBL engineering design courses. The relevance of this study is threefold. First it conceptualizes a teamwork phenomenon that energizes innovation through scaffolded conflict. We also explore how this concept is enacted by engineering teams in two different cultural sites. Finally, we provide bottom-up strategies that can be implemented in other undergraduate engineering design programs.


Engineering design Teams Conflict orchestration Socio-constructivism 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DILAB School of EngineeringPontificia Universidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.School of EngineeringPontificia Universidad de ChileSantiagoChile

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