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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Fairness & Respect in Meeting Team Responsibilities

Rafael Guerrero

Finally, teams rely on structure for success. While it may not always be the case that a team has a defined leader and hierarchy, team structure demands that teammates are able to hold each other accountable for the progress of the project. Structure comes with it the expectation that team members have shared responsibilities in the operation of the senior design team. Responsibility in the context of teamwork calls upon a variety of virtues from engineers, two of which are the virtues of fairness and respect among team members. Simply put, a functional team divides work fairly and operates with mutual respect between teammates and their roles within the team.

What is considered fair in the context of engineering collaboration? While it may be ideal to expect each member to handle the same amount of work in the same amount of time, this expectation does not honor each teammate’s individual strengths and contributions to the team dynamic. And while it is important to define how unique each team member and their skill sets are, a team should operate on mutual responsibilities. In the context of the Fairness and Justice approach, as defined by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, “should be treated the same, unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation in which they are involved”(Velasquez et. al, 1988) [1]. This means that while every team member should be expected to demonstrate the same level of respect for one another, it can be unfair of a cross-disciplinary team to expect the same level of proficiency in bioengineering applications from a mechanical engineer or electrical engineer.

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In mechanical engineering senior design projects, an important part of design validation and completion of the senior thesis is what is called an analysis report. Typically the analysis report involves an in-depth study of the stresses and failure modes that are expected of parts and subsystems of a design using finite element analysis (FEA). Because three of the four members of our team did not take a course in finite element methods, the work fell on one of our team members to complete the analysis report by himself.

Was this fair? In the context of our team, he was expected to be able to contribute the same amount of time to attending group meetings and completing the weekly work packages assigned by either me or the Advanced Design senior design course series. However, the analysis report came at a time where our team was also planning for a significant amount of time to be spent in the machine shop completing our prototype parts. We decided that a fair and even distribution of the work would be that he would be the primary person responsible for the FEA work on the parts necessary to fabricate, and the rest of the team to go to work on the parts that have already been verified by him.

As team manager of my senior design team, I saw that fairness often times does not mean that everyone does the same amount of work. In my last quarter of the senior design course, I witnessed myself having to take on a smaller workload because I had a much more impacted course load than my teammates. This was not the first time this occurred, as winter quarter saw one of our other team members take on a full graduate course load while taking the same courses as we were. This coupled with the mutual respect we had for each other as colleagues that held each other to the same expectation of dedication to seeing our prototype completed and deployed to our customer in Nicaragua. As we all witnessed fluctuations in our individual work loads and responsibilities, fairness in dividing work was impossible without each team member feeling the respect needed to communicate their difficulties and needs for support when needed.



[1] Velasquez, Manuel, et al. “Ethics and Virtue.” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 1 Jan. 1988.

Jun 29, 2018