Developing Leaders by Building Better Teams in MBAn 501

by | Dec 1, 2022 | Managing Teams

This past summer term, I had the opportunity to co-teach a new course in Ross’ Master of Business Analytics (MBAn) program. The class, “Software Teams and Project Management,” had two interrelated components—team dynamics and managing software development projects. The team dynamics content included topics such as behavioral norms on teams, team decision-making, conflict management, visioning, the role of feedback, the need for psychological safety, and how to manage a team’s culture for good. The project management content part of the course included topics such as lean startup principles, agile principles, self-organizing teams, how to extract value from data, and integrating software tools while managing ambiguity with surprise changes to timing, scope and content.

Course content was reinforced with the idea that agile principles aren’t checking boxes, but rather embracing leadership practices; taking risks and experimenting with new ways of thinking, being, and doing. Every step involved seeking feedback and incorporating feedback, whether that be from a customer or a teammate.

“I really loved the emphasis on team dynamics in this class. By infusing leadership development in this course there was a hyper-awareness about the team we are on, which led me to take a step back and question the typical role and leadership strategies I assume when I am a part of a group. This initially felt uncomfortable, but pairing the experience with readings about strategies to build a successful team equipped us with the skills to try new strategies in a safe/low-stakes setting to learn from.” -Mary Silvio, MBAn ’23

“This course made me realize that every failed leadership experience actually helps a person to understand the uniqueness of each team and get better at handling various situations. So it always takes time and reflection to become a better leader.” -Bryant Zhong, MBAn ’23

We studied why agile projects often fail, often due to the lack of flexibility as things change all the time. A plan often changes, therefore, we encourage students to plan for the change and adapt as necessary. Effective teams use self-organizing principles, are diverse, agree upon team norms, and provide feedback to each other when those norms don’t go as planned. Students learned about the importance of cross-functional teams and used a variety of tools to solve problems, make better decisions, and create value. We make better decisions when we involve the customer in the collaborative process and our teams are successful.

One of the very first documents the class was exposed to was the agile manifesto, which uncovered better ways to develop software while helping others do it. This process placed a value on individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a prescribed plan. While there is value in all of the elements presented, the emphasis for this class was on the 12 principles for agile software while integrating concepts like a team charter, what teams can do to create psychological safety, and how teams can create a positive culture by using the Michigan Model of Leadership.

“As someone with previous experience in business school, I am no stranger to working in teams. However, that doesn’t mean that I know how to have a successful and positive experience when working with others. I have found that even teams that are made up of smart, hard-working people experience conflict. This class opened my eyes by teaching me about the importance of setting a strong foundation from the beginning. More specifically, learning about team charters and being assigned to do one resulted in having one of the best team experiences of my life. We had little to no conflict simply because we had established norms that guided us and that we could refer back to throughout the project. This might seem a little too obvious or simple, but it truly makes a world of difference.” -Nayib Asis Elizalde, MBAn ’23

“The team dynamic portion of the MBAn 501 course helped me become a better leader because I was able to workshop my leadership and team-building skills in class each week and reflect on how I could become a better leader and team player. After I workshopped these skills in class, I was also able to apply the skills and tools that I had learned during our final group project and was able to see the direct positive impact of utilizing these skills in a team setting.” -Natalie Lobo, MBAn ’23

(From top left) Nayib Asis Elizalde, MBAn ’23; Natalie Lobo, MBAn ’23; Mary Silvio, MBAn ’23; Bryant Zhong, MBAn ’23