Maximum Use of Process
XB: The Experience-Based Learning Organization

Many teachers and trainers want to bring an immediate experience of Management and Organizational Behavior to students.  Treating the classroom as an organization (CAO) allows us to use real events as learning opportunities, to use process.  This short description introduces an approach that makes maximum use of process.

First, a contrast with three other approaches to CAO: cases that replicate participants’ experience, class projects, and building an organization. (1) A good case can mirror the experience of groups of students working on it, but each group is doing exactly the same job as the next group.  Real organizations don’t work like that.  (2) Class projects, like running a candy stand, make it easy for groups to have different tasks, but participants focus on concrete tasks of production, marketing, and finance rather than organizational behavior - just like the real world, but they don’t learn OB!  (3) Students asked to build an organization from scratch do not have the time or background to design, implement, and change anything very complex; they often look back on the course as “unstructured.”  In all three cases the teacher makes the links to the real world and by talking a lot becomes more focal than necessary.

XB (the eXperience Base) is a complex organization whose service (or product) is participants’ learning of concepts and skills of management and organizational behavior.  This organization exists, full-fledged in The XB Manual.  Students take over this organization by reading the manual, assuming responsibilities as it directs them. 

Treating the classroom as an organization, we apply theories of management and organizational behavior (OB) primarily to our own experience, that is to structures, procedures, events, and people in the class.  Groups of students have different functions, take responsibility for administering and running the class, and must work together for the organization to succeed.  Members join one of three groups in one of four departments, each group having unique administrative, teaching, and grading responsibilities. 

Management means getting things done through other people, so the teacher, playing the Senior Manager role, delegates every possible function.  I even delegate grading, although other senior managers do not.  You don’t have to be either the greatest manager or the greatest teacher.  XB mixes these roles so that where one fails as a manager one can still succeed as a teacher and vice versa.  The Senior Manager coaches, often giving advice outside class, trying to stay out of the way and let others manage their parts of the organization.

The XB Manual spells out in minute detail how the different departments and jobs should function - unless members have a better idea. The book also helps the reader apply management and OB theories and tools to managing the XB Organization.  

Each group reads its own part of the manual and other text assignments on its topics, so by the third week (in theory) the organization has done all the reading for the semester.  The organization must then exploit its internal resources.  Each group's objective is to teach members of other groups specific topics that it has learned, as these topics apply to XB.  They grade other members' learning.  Some grading is done by rank order, no ties allowed, to guarantee conflict and frank discussion within groups.  

The groups may reach their objectives in any way they choose.  Some groups make presentations; others achieve their objectives by approaching individuals outside class and getting them to do something differently.  Others do nothing at all. 

Though they can read what to do, members usually take three weeks (of a semester) to get used to not being told what to do, i.e., to feeling like managers, not students.  Many members begin this course with no great sense of responsibility.  They struggle to find out how the organization functions, and they learn that they - or no one - will make XB work.  

By design, some disorder ensues.  Following the manual doesn't make this organization work (or any other): some members sit back and let others work, and then important sectors of the organization do not function as they should.  Most groups don't work effectively because they only know their own material; the organizing people don't control; the planners don't motivate etc.  But XB wouldn't succeed as a learning organization if it functioned smoothly.  Disorder creates opportunities for learning, and theories and concepts of management and organizational behavior offer excellent diagnostic tools for understanding what is going on and for making the organization more effective.  Groups learn to recognize situations where their skill or theory is needed.  As they provide a missing concept or teach a relevant skill, the organization begins to work.  Thus a modicum of chaos motivates and provides the opportunity for people to learn the fundamentals: setting and reaching objectives, rational decision making, functional authority, effective delegation, how to recover from failure, the necessity of communicating, and above all, continual learning from experience. 

The groups also exercise specific line responsibilities, running every possible administrative aspect of the organization, including scheduling topics for upcoming meetings (classes), planning the agenda for each meeting, moderating discussion, and making sure that members do certain things regularly (such as using e-mail to communicate with other members).  A teacher could do any of these administrative tasks better than any member but could never do all as well as they do.  Moderating a discussion, for instance, means little to a teacher but motivates a participant, especially if directly supervised by someone responsible for training moderators.

Leaders and a distinct organizational culture emerge, and participants observe and discuss how they emerge.  Students learn many of the same theories as in other management and OB courses, but in this course they use theories and skills in the middle of the action in class and often the next day at work.  After the course they feel at home in the hurly-burly of real organizations. 

Roger Putzel has run XB with traditional undergraduates at St. Michael’s College, mid-level public sector managers in francophone Africa, and non-traditional students in a conflict resolution program at Woodbury College. For a list of others who have run it, see below.

The complete manual is available in English.  A French version is half-complete.  If you want to make maximum use of process and experience a real organization in a classroom, please contact Roger Putzel.

Other Senior Managers (link to come)


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