Case study: How does working on real-life cases help in learning business? Using the example of the Leading Organization in a New Era program.

11 Dec 2023

In the early 1920s, the Dean of Harvard Business School in Boston, Dean Donham, successfully persuaded his fellow educators to adopt the “case study” method in their classes. So, what does this method entail? How can one maximize the learning experience? And is learning from actual cases genuinely the most effective approach? Let’s explore these questions using the Leading Organization in a New Era program as our example.

Leading Organization in a New Era is a unique program the UCU Business School offers in collaboration with the Center for Leadership of UCU and the Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership (Ivey Business School). The program is designed for top-tier leaders and addresses today’s most pressing issues.

“In 2021, the idea of creating this program was influenced by the pandemic and the consequences it brought about. This year’s program is directly related to organizations operating in conditions of war. In the second iteration of the program, we strive to find solutions for effective leadership under these circumstances. 80% of the content is updated and unique,” shared Andrii Rozhdestvenskyi, Professor of Leadership and CEO of the Center for Leadership of UCU.

What does the “case study” method encompass?

The approach to “case study” learning is based on the “learn-by-doing” method, as opposed to merely the “learn-by-listening” approach.

In this program, we have focused on developing effective leadership through competence, character, and dedication.

During the case study technique training, participants stepped into the roles of heroes in situational exercises. They made decisions, tackled real challenges, dealt with time and information constraints, addressed people issues, and managed limited resources.

“The cases under consideration are quite typical for any organization. Each of them reflects a specific classical problem that an organization sooner or later encounters. Therefore, discussing them based on real examples and engaging with people who were in these situations 10-12 years ago is very interesting for leaders,” commented Taras Chmut, a participant in the program and the director of the NGO “Come Back Alive” Foundation.

Among the cases processed in the Leading Organization in a New Era program:

  1. “Gunshots: how one mistake turns an army commander into a laughingstock.”
  2. “Transparency International Ukraine.”
  3. “Isaac Park: Crucible of Leadership.”
  4. “Workplace Resilience: conflict between a new manager and the team?”
  5. “Your Market.”

Participants also worked with video cases, including a unique, recently filmed movie titled “Ukraine: Leadership Test”. In this movie, discussions revolve around the importance of leadership during crises and how it operates in volunteerism, business, and directly on the frontline: three leaders, three directions of influence, and the diverse manifestations of each virtue of character.

The film is already available at the following link (in Ukrainian).

A pleasant bonus and surprise for participants were meetings with real-life figures from the cases, including Rashid Wasti, Eleanor Taylor, Michael Rolland, and discussions about the actual course of events.

Their thoughtful and courageous decisions back then and the successes they have achieved now inspire and encourage the development of leadership virtues and competencies. As many participants have aptly noted, nothing motivates quite like a role model.

How to get the most out of learning?

Here are three simple stages contained in the “case study” method according to the Ivey Learning Experience that help interact most effectively with the information:

  1. Individual Preparation: Start by reading and contemplating the case on your own. Identify the overall theme of the case, study the data and information provided in the case, and pinpoint critical questions. Put yourself in the shoes of the decision-maker in the case and develop some recommendations.
  2. Team Discussion: In your teams, help each other better understand the case. Conduct “healthy” debates on the best approaches to the case. This is an opportunity to test thoughts, learn from others, and transition from individual analysis to new and improved ideas.
  3. Classroom Discussion: In the classroom, engage in a deep, multifaceted discussion of the case accompanied by lecturers whose role is to encourage participants to discuss and sometimes even challenge and provoke them. Conclude the discussion by summarizing the lessons learned and analytical frameworks that emerged from the case.

“Because it’s always important to pay attention not only to the achieved result but also to how we achieved it,” shared Tetiana Gapachylo, Staffing and Resource Management Director at DataArt, in her feedback on the training.

Why is it important to work with current information?

During the training, we also focused on the relevant topic of mental and physical health with Orest Suvalo, Executive Director of the Institute of Mental Health at UCU, and Igor Zastavnyy, a family doctor and co-founder of Svoi.ridni.

Now, more than ever, it is relevant, valuable, and important to understand and care for the emotional well-being of teams, create a comfortable work environment, and know how to help integrate colleagues returning to their workplaces after experiencing the challenges of war.

Sophia Opatska, Vice-Rector for Strategic Development at UCU and Dean-Founder of the UCU Business School, along with Roksolyana Voronovska, Head of UCU Online, and guest Andriy Stetsiuk, Chief Financial Officer of SoftServe, discussed organizational resilience and the role of a leader in times of difficult decisions during the educational part of the program. They shared research and experience on how to preserve values and have a support system during times of uncertainty, how to overcome and resist challenges, the importance of honesty with team members, and what the planning horizon should be.

“It seemed, when I started the first of 20 interviews with owners and managers, I didn’t know until the end what I would do with this experience. I just felt that it was important — to spread their stories to the world, to make examples out of them, to illustrate the resilience we so often talk about at the UCU Business School,” shared Sophia Opatska.

The research findings we discussed are freely accessible in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. We invite you to read it:

More information about current programs that you can join can be found on our website.