Collaborative Problem Solving in Engineering

Collaboration is essential in any team-based work environment. This holds especially true for engineering, wherein individual output contributes to team output, with both being critical and often creative. For a company to stay at the cutting edge of the competitive engineering industry, its engineers must continually create and innovate. Along with developing new ideas, thinking critically is a fundamental part of the engineering mindset. Being productive and efficient leads engineers to consider all outcomes of idea and project development, both positive and negative. Although this level of critical thinking is necessary for efficient design, it can hamper team productivity when experimentation and concept potential are not fully explored.

People can get stuck in their thinking. In a collaborative environment, someone else's insight or new concept can spark a solution and help them come unstuck. Fostering a collaborative work environment is a key part of developing problem solving skills in engineering and related fields. To this end, a well-devised degree program such as the University of Southern Indiana's online Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Engineering Management can help prospective leaders in the engineering field develop the communication and leadership skills necessary to build strong, collaborative team environments in the workplace.

A Strong Leader With Communication Skills

At the heart of building a collaborative team is a manager with the ability to communicate effectively and foster positive communication between employees. Strong leadership is based in communication, from establishing and articulating guidelines and performance expectations to evaluating performance, positively reinforcing high performers and positively framing constructive feedback with clear, actionable methods for performance improvement. Yet, communication is a two-way street. Managers who accept both positive and constructive feedback from their employees model the ability to receive and internalize such feedback without defensiveness. Furthermore, employees who feel their thoughts and opinions are valued are more likely to feel invested in their work and their coworkers.

To be productive and constructive, employees need to be able to communicate clearly with each other, regardless of whether they agree or disagree. Appeasing communication does not allow for synthesis of multiple viewpoints. In combining the positive aspects of differing opinions, the collective communication process distills the best ideas from varying perspectives. In this manner, conflict can be the source of opportunity for more complete solutions to problems that arise.

Making Sure Everyone Has a Voice

Although the benefits of developing positive, collective problem-solving and communication are clear, nurturing these skills or traits in your employees can be difficult. In earning an MBA in Engineering Management, candidates develop problem solving skills in engineering. At least initially, the manager's role in addressing a problem is that of facilitator. Engineers with strong critical thinking skills might come to such meetings with preconceived solutions coupled with a resistance to the solutions that others might propose. They listen to others only to the extent that it allows them a moment to interject their own thoughts or solutions.

Obviously, this less-than-constructive approach inhibits the collaborative problem-solving process. It is up to the manager to facilitate such meetings in a way that ensures everyone has a chance to share their thoughts. Knowing that all ideas will be heard can help each employee listen to and ingest their coworkers' thoughts more readily. In addition, the facilitator should model valuing and fully considering the ideas of all staff members, weighing each idea for potential benefit. Using these and other methods of directing and enhancing group dynamics can create a more positive, constructive form of critical thinking and support the collaborative approach to problem-solving.

Collaborative problem-solving can improve outcomes and the overall morale and dynamic of your team. Candidates for an MBA in Engineering Management can gain valuable knowledge of, and experience in, collaborative problem-solving, a basic tenet of an effective team-based work environment.

Learn more about the University of Southern Indiana's MBA – Engineering Management online.


Sources:

PEAK: Six Steps to Better Communications with Your Engineering Manager and Colleagues


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