Last Tuesday, Professor Ann Armstrong asked her Organiza-tional Design (MGT363) students to bring $2. At the start of the lecture, Armstrong explained that she needed the $2 to run an exercise that would simulate the dynamics of power, politics and conflict within real organizations through a pretend organization formed by the students—the “Toonie Organization.”
Armstrong gave a brief discussion of the simulation rules, which pertained to organizational structure, role-assigning and communication. Three students would hold upper management positions, four would hold middle management positions and the remaining 25 would hold the positions of workers. The upper management’s role was to establish an organizational goal and realize it. They could communicate with both the middle and lower organization groups freely. The middle management’s role was to support upper management in achieving their goal and managing the workers—they could communicate with the lower group freely, but needed permission to speak with upper management. The workers’ role was to perform the tasks assigned to them by management—they could only communicate with middle management and could choose to revolt and not perform tasks if they did not want to. Armstrong contributed $20 to the pooled money, divided the totaled $74 amongst the two management groups respective to their power, and allowed the “Toonie Organization” to begin its simulation exercise.
Halfway through the two-hour lecture, brainstorming and sharing of ideas amongst the two management groups yielded an unexpected strategic goal: to raise additional funds and use all proceeds towards a cause that would make a difference. The MGT363 Toonie Organization collectively selected Heifer International as the charity through which to make a donation. (Heifer International aims to end hunger and poverty by giving donors the opportunity to buy livestock that will help feed and support families).
With this goal in mind, the students began to relax the rigid rules that their positions once forced them to adhere to. This allowed them to increase communication, cooperation and efficiency. They organized themselves into small groups and explained their class simulation exercise and the strategic goal they hoped to achieve to friends, students and even their former professors in the South Building’s Hall and Meeting Place.
The Toonie Organization had expected to raise no more than an additional $10 in the limited time they had left, but the results was highly unexpected—they more than doubled their wealth, raising $84 in less than 30 minutes. The students decided to make a $160 donation of a goat and two flocks of chicken through Heifer International.
The exercise, meant to facilitate the learning of the dynamics of power politics and conflict in an organization to business students, ended instead with a move that helped combat hunger and poverty. None of the MGT363 students or Professor Armstrong could have foreseen such an outcome. Not only were the course concepts demonstrated in a fresh way, but the students’ active involvement in the exercise took the class to another level, bringing philanthropic acts of business even to the level of a class simulation.