Engineering is a discipline, profession, and art that applies science and technology to the design and implementation of machines, devices, structures, materials and processes to achieve an objective. Engineering students or practicing engineers do not always realize that their effectiveness is almost completely dependent on how well they work together as a team. By participating in various exercises that strengthen teamwork, their results and attitudes will improve dramatically..
Chair of Truth
Everybody in your group comes from a different background, and they all have different philosophies. As a result of this exercise, students and engineers will be able to understand their teammates as people. Set up two chairs at the front of the room with two students, and give them a topic of conversation. They should talk freely, as if nobody else is in the room. If another student wishes to join in on the conversation, he can tag out one of the two students in the front and begin talking. Other students will be excited to add their two cents, so make sure not to let one student hog all the speaking time.
Create a Model
This activity from the Business Balls website helps your group work together in the creation of an idea. It can also help your team to determine the strengths of its various members. Give the group newspaper, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, string and a stapler, and tell them to make a complex model of a vehicle, machine, or building. Assign a team leader who is responsible for making sure that all members of the group are participating. Depending on the resources of your department, you may even be able to develop the model created by your group or groups. You have the option of setting a time limit for this activity of one class period or stretch it over a couple of weeks.
Build a Bridge
A standby team-building exercise from the 42 Explore site for engineers of all ages, building a bridge can help a team learn to work together on a common task. The objective is for a team to build the strongest bridge possible out of toothpicks, newspaper, or any other material you have in abundance. This can be a competition if you have enough students for several groups. The groups should report on who came up with what ideas for their bridge. Test to see which of the teams’ bridges is the strongest, and award a prize to the winner. Give your students at least one week's worth of class periods to complete this project to the best of their ability.
Engineering in Action
Students of engineering or beginning engineers are used to the theoretical applications of their work but not so often the practical. Have your group visit some working engineers, and have the working group explain how it functions as a team. The team should be one that has worked together for several years. Ask them to explain how a project goes from the idea phase through the production phase. After the presentation, have your students divide into groups to talk about all the ways the working engineers used teamwork to see their idea through. This activity will give students a chance to see the value of a team up close and personal..