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EMBA Diary

It takes a team to solve a business problem Add to ...

Samir Mohammed is a technology consultant with more than 15 years of multinational experience developing and delivering. He is currently an executive MBA student at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Outside work, he spends time with his wife and two children and in various cooking experiments, some of which have been successful. This is his first blog for EMBA Diary.

It’s October, and our fourth and final term is drawing to a close for our executive MBA class. With the end in reach, I look back at the past 12 months of my studies and allow my mind to stop at several “stations” throughout the journey and to reflect on some personal learning and key experiences.

I have memories of the challenges adjusting to the program in the first term, of the personal tests and trials brought by leadership development programs in the second term, and of the satisfying experience of applying our learning as organizational leaders in the third term.

Most of all, I’m reminded of my deep sense of appreciation for the power of “integrative thinking,” Rotman’s model-based approach to solving business problems across disciplines and a hallmark of the school’s experience.

I arrived at the Rotman EMBA program with an information technology background and management consulting experience. In addition to a lifelong disposition to learning, I had two closely related objectives in mind – the first was to solidify my experience through a structured approach to management learning, and the second was to advance my career through executive leadership development.

The 13-month EMBA program was structured around a challenging yet well-thought-out set of milestones along the journey.

Our cohort steadily progressed through knowledge of financial, accounting and other managerial foundations in the first term to the study and application of corporate decisions in the third.

Integrative thinking and a multidisciplinary mindset were introduced, and emphasized, across all stages of the program and in the development of solutions to business problems. As part of this approach, students were advised to construct a broader view of business challenges, to recognize dependencies between business disciplines, and to take advantage of this multidisciplinary view in order to create new possibilities that would increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

As students, we quickly came to recognize that business complications rarely present themselves in a narrow and isolated context but rather as challenges that span multiple disciplines and which require a broader perspective to analyze and solve.

Through case studies, we demonstrated that a financial issue could have operational implications or that a strategic question may have an answer rooted in operations, for instance. I discovered during the third term that my first objective was met through the inclusion of this integrative thinking and teaching framework as part of the learning experience.

A core component of integrative thinking was the Business Problem Solving (BPS) course, which was delivered in the first term. The course’s lectures walked us through the foundations of using models to solve business problems, and they also highlighted the limitations of such models and the influence of personal perceptions and deep-seated biases on managerial decisions.

With a framework, tools and exercises drawn from the business world, the objectives of these lectures were to develop an awareness of both business and mental models in order to recognize, and to eventually minimize, suboptimal decision-making.

I found the lessons learned in the course highly relevant to an EMBA program and of much value to anyone tasked with making decisions, primarily in work and group settings, although the concepts can be easily extended to cover our lives outside work.

Leadership development courses were introduced as key ingredients to integrative thinking in the second term of the program. These courses built on the knowledge and technical foundations introduced in the first term and added models of leadership behaviours to the learning experience. This is where our class had opportunities to observe, critique and to incorporate different styles of personal and organizational leadership.

Negotiation strategies, organizational behaviour, ethics and numerous workshops added personal and social awareness to the integrative thinking mix.

At the conclusion of the second term, it became clear to me that the program, which is widely renowned for its strengths in finance, has a less-cited yet equally strong transformational aspect to it – an aspect that creates the opportunity for personal change as new behaviours emerge and shape alternate views of ourselves and the world around us. I have personally felt the positive impact of these changes, as have other colleagues who shared their experiences.

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