A team of students sit around a table with desktop computers

A MGT 460/840 team selects roles for a simulation about to begin.

It’s rare to see MBA students and undergraduates working together in the classroom. But an Eli Broad College of Business course uses their interaction as a testing ground for concepts of leadership and teamwork, enriching the experience with ongoing team simulations and continual data-driven reports about each student’s performance.

The course is both the capstone experience for Michigan State University’s management majors (MGT 460 Management Capstone) and a second-year MBA elective (MGT 840 Leadership and Team Management). The combined class provides a structured experience for each group, with MBA students taking the role of leaders recruiting a team and undergraduates taking the role of active team members.

To help students learn how to build an effective team, the course blends lecture and discussion covering the latest management research with an ongoing collection of data on students’ experiences through weekly surveys and extensive team simulations. The data is then fed back to the students through regular team standings and individual feedback reports.

“The students learn something about themselves – and learn that these skills can be learned, measured, and analyzed,” noted Crystal Farh, assistant professor of management and the course’s instructor.

The simulation process is quite involved. Students take a battery of tests – EQ, IQ, personality, cultural values, and more – and interview one another to create a profile of each course participant. Based on this data, leaders select and recruit team members. As they come together, it is the leader’s job to knit the individuals into a functioning team.

The teams then spend four weeks competing in a data-rich computerized simulation in the Team Effectiveness Teaching Laboratory. This simulation, developed to test and build leadership in the military, provides a neutral backdrop for the teams to demonstrate their ability to work together, learn, and adapt to changing circumstances. Their work together is captured on video, allowing them to analyze interactions after the fact.

“The lab experiences help you understand concepts explained in class,” said Namrata Sheth (BA Management ’14).

Her team leader agreed. “We definitely make a lot of improvements from week to week,” said Tarik Bazzy (MBA ’14). “It’s an application of leadership theories we think and read about.” As the simulations went on, his understanding of his own leadership style evolved. “Where I thought I would do better in a divisional structure, I’ve found that I’m actually better in a functional team environment,” Bazzy noted.

After the simulations, each student faces a professional-style 360-degree review featuring feedback from each other team member. With all this data gathered, students reflect on what they have learned about their own strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to the team competition experience.

Craig Willette (BA Management ’14) demonstrated his skill at rapidly developing and analyzing strategies in the team simulations, but also learned that he could be too hasty in suggesting that teammates’ ideas would not work. “My quick analyses are certainly not always correct, but I have trouble recognizing this,” he noted.

Rose Klein (BA Human Resource Management ’14) noticed the assets and challenges her detail orientation brought to the team setting. “I strengthened my team by recognizing the need for team organization, which pushed me to become a functional leader,” she reflected. “But I struggle with my need to be in control of both a situation and team actions.”

These reactions match those of past course participants. “Leaders realize their mistakes in relating to people, in valuing specific team members, in creating team climate early,” said Farh. “Team members learn that leaders are imperfect, and that they have to find ways to compensate for this.”