MBA Programs - Continuing Education in Florida
Professors talk about their approaches to teaching leadership skills.
Steven Christopher Ellis
Instructor, Department of Decision Sciences & Information Systems
Florida International University College of Business
Course: Business Analysis for Decision Making
Steven Christopher Ellis says he’s discovered that game-playing is the ideal way for his graduate business students to learn. He’s created a Rubik’s cube competition for his students, organizing them into teams representing companies in the business of solving Rubik’s cubes using a five-step solution. Customers pay to get their cubes solved by the teams but receive discounts on the price if a team takes longer than promised to complete a cube.
First, teams must find out how long each worker takes to do each of the five steps, decide how many people to assign to each of the five steps and figure out who will actually perform each task.
Next comes the twist: Ellis preassembles the teams to run inefficiently. Team members aren’t allowed to sit together. This requires that each team assign a “runner” to get the cubes around from step to step — a waste of resources and time.
Then comes the negotiation: If teams can gather data on the impact of this approach and persuade Ellis how and why it’s inefficient, then they can change that rule and sit together — giving them an operational advantage in the next round.
“I’m not trying to fill my students’ heads with facts and figures,” Ellis says. “I want students to face the real challenges that an operations manager faces.”
Spread out over a semester, the Rubik’s cube game has five half-hour rounds that incorporate statistics and teach lessons about waste, productivity and collaboration.
In his executive MBA classes, Ellis challenges his students to design and manufacture three models of airplanes using paper airplanes as models. They have to analyze data around buying materials, assembling parts in various cities, shipping pieces to the assembly plant and using offshore labor.
One of the biggest lessons Ellis expects students to learn is how to work in teams and confront the problems that face team members at all levels. Many times, the student teams meet on the weekends to figure out how to manipulate data and improve their process before they get back to class.