THE RESEARCH CASE STUDY: How Managers Become Researchers and Learners for Organizational Learning the MBA Program "Communication and Leadership"

By the end of the third program[1] the MBA program had developed a vast array of material designed to support the students in writing their cases, to help them open themselves by widening their perspectives for the past and the future of their own situations and opportunities for their company.

Through the use of the approach "Research Case Study," the special learning focus in the MBA program is the discovery and understanding of the company's learning potential from the company's previously developed learning capabilities. This research process enhances the company's learning potential so that it can be used by management for the future in a targeted fashion. The development of two to four scenarios (see Figure 5.2 below Step 7) makes this organizational learning the focus once more, because the organizational context for the learning phenomenon is defamiliarized. Thus the researcher-manager is forced to define the core of the learning and to verify it for the changed context: to what extent can organizational learning stand up to the changed context? The manager's capability of abstraction in relation to organizational learning is honed further.

Overview of the sections of the master's thesis (Spindler, 2010).

Figure 5.2. Overview of the sections of the master's thesis (Spindler, 2010).

Examples of topics of master's theses which show the research processes the practitioners go through are:

• Merger as the motivation for the move from extended workbench to independent company

• How the concept of the learning organization can be put into practice in the X department of the Y bank

• The consolidation of seven professional associations into one umbrella organization

The process of supporting the students in their move from a managermindset to researcher-mindset focuses on the learning process. A comprehensive and successful collaboration and learning environment are developed, resulting from the following steps:

1. Workshop 1: Set the framework[2] clarify the requirements of the program, the needs of the students and support measures, consider first peer-group settings according to similar topics and intentions. The students explore and define their main interests and the phenomena of the research case study. The instructors pay special attention to emotional involvement and hidden agendas.

2. Workshop 2: The researchers present their first drafts in front of an audience (the other students/researchers and the instructors). The presentation and critical feedback force the researchers to explain as precisely as possible. The focus of the feedback is:

• Where does the researcher start? What are the assumptions, motivations and involvements of the manager which act as the drivers for taking a closer look at this story?

• Definition of the research question and/or assumption. In this step the researchers decide what should be investigated in detail and why.

• Definition of the core of the story, the phenomena, their interconnections and their limits.

3. Workshop 3: The researchers present the status quo or the progress of the case in front of an audience (the other students/ researchers and the instructors). The presentation and critical feedback again force the researchers to explain as precisely as possible. The focus of the feedback is:

• The research case study as a story within a timeframe, preferably using a graphic showing the 'inciting incident' that throws life out of balance.

• Phenomenon—description of the origin, the changes and results from different perspectives.

• The context of the core case:

- A brief history of the company: foundations, mergers, the story of failure and learning, and so forth.

- The present environment of the core case, for instance the technical requirements, the competitors, changes in the law.

• An answer to the question is supposed to be useful, so that further questions can arise concerning the phenomenon and the context.

• The story is classified by topic and made comprehensible for the audience/reader.

In this third workshop the students also receive guidance on the theoretical part of the master's thesis.

After these three workshops the empirical part is finalized. Over the summer the students write the entire master's thesis. During this period the members of the peer group help each other most. By this time they know each other very well from the workshops and have learned how to give and receive feedback. In September the instructors read the drafts of the entire case studies and the students receive one-to-one feedback.

The establishment of supportive peer groups is an important step for the development of the case studies and for the students' learning. It involves three approaches through the three programs:

• Self-organization into small groups sharing similar research interests: The students have nothing in common except content similarity of their work.

• Virtual community: discussion forums and feedback sections are established. Student concerns include the anonymity and great difficulty with the additional working hours on the virtual platform.

• Workshops based on presentations and feedback: a very successful approach, despite student reservations about giving feedback and helping each other. By the third workshop the culture opens up and mutual support becomes very welcome in terms of both giving and receiving.

  • [1] In 2009.
  • [2] Steps refer to the time plan for the case studies (see Bauer 2010).
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