One of the first MEM classes that new students take is 402 Engineering Management or the “Gateway” class, which provides students with their first introduction to a business laboratory environment. In the class, students develop a business plan that they execute over several simulated years of competition. Every facet of the project is 100% teamwork based and students don’t simply work together, but also learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of a team and how to adjust and improve team dynamics.
Gail Berger, a professor in the Master of Engineering Management department as well as the Kellogg School of Management and the School of Education and Social Policy, acts as the students’ coach throughout the quarter. Before the start of the simulation, she teaches the fundamental strategies of effective team-building. Throughout the course, Professor Berger meets with students both individually and as a team, and facilitates feedback session to evaluate team-related performance and skills. In the meetings, students discuss the anonymous feedback they provided during individual meetings and, following Professor Berger’s lead, discuss ways to improve in the future.
The combination of individual and whole group meetings are key to team improvement and help students see where weaknesses and difficulties could arise. For example, one problem groups may face is the perception that one member of the team is passive and not participating enough. In the group setting, the student may explain that they wish to participate and complete an equal amount of work, but he or she is naturally reticent and shy. The group then brainstorms ideas for the future, such as one member in the group directly asking the member for his or her opinion. By making the decision together, the group can improve performance in the future and everyone is comfortable with the situation. At the end of the quarter, students evaluate their performance and discuss what they will employ when working in teams in the future.
The Gateway class teaches students through experience so they can move forward not only with the content knowledge, but the generally applicable team knowledge that they will later need to become successful leaders. Professors Jeff Lefebvre and David Semb, co-partners of PriSim Business War Games, whose business simulations have been used by companies such as AAA Insurance Services and Washington Mutual, report that after the simulation they notice significant differences in the level of team interactions and a reduced number of team conflicts.
Do you think this is an effective first class for new MEM students? What other skills do engineers need to develop while earning a Masters degree?