Specialization Review – Leading People and Teams (University of Michigan)

Here is my review of "Leading People and Teams" specialization taken on Coursera from Aug 2017 till Jan 2018. Courses in this specialization are ranked very high between 4.5 and 5.0. I passed with the average grade of 99.0%. The specialization consists of 3 courses focusing on leadership and team work, 1 course emphasizing human relationships (HR) side of management, and a capstone project.

The first course, "Inspiring and Motivating Individuals", is quite inspirational indeed. Surprising research evidence suggests that most employees around the world are not engaged/motivated at work, and lots of them are even actively disengaged. The course outlines the origin of meaning of the work, the importance of company vision and engagement, the drivers of people motivations, and the ways to align the employees with the company's goals. 

The second course, "Managing Talent", is aimed primarily at managers conducting the onboarding, managing performance and evaluations, coaching the team members, and maintaining continuity of talent. Research shows that managers play crucial role in personnel turnover. A variety of organizational behavior effects and biases are discussed, such as Dunning-Kruger effect, availability error, racial bias, and gender bias. Knowledge from this course might, just like CSM and PMP certifications, backfire in startups or companies without rigid structure, where many of the standard techniques are not followed.

The 3-rd course, "Influencing people", is probably the most practical of the specialization. If outlines the bases of power and the bases of strong relationships with people and goes in great depth with examples. The course offers practical advice on how to positively interact with colleagues, how to build relationships, and how to gain influence, while protecting oneself from unwanted influence. Expert knowledge, information power, and referent power are presented as influencing means without formal authority. The material assumes a workplace in US, which provides great insight into the informal expectations for immigrant workers. E.g. the expected level of socializing at the workplace is different around the world, and is somewhat higher than average in the US.

The 4-th course, "Leading teams" takes it to the higher level of team dynamics. It provides practical advice for improving team work, coordination, output, and overall happiness. The course discusses topics as team structure, team size, subteams and splits based on demographics/similarity. Coordination problems and common design making flaws are emphasized and the prevention methods are presented. Psychological safety is presented as a cornerstone for team performance. Team charters and team norms are discussed. Performance-oriented vs. learning-oriented mindsets are shown to provide different outcomes.

The final capstone project, "Leading People and Teams Capstone" is automatically graded as a pass. It offers 3 options on improving leadership skills: (1) solve a real-world leadership business case, (2) take on a leadership challenge at work, or (3) interview a business leader to gain insight of their practices. The option (2) is probably best aligned the main goal of the course to improve the learner's leadership skills.

Overall, I had a great experience taking the specialization. It emphasizes that leadership skills is not something a person born with. They should and readily are acquired as a result of systematic work. A lot of material is focused on leading without formal authority, which is especially helpful to team members of self-organizing Scrum teams in the software industry. The courses are filled with real-life stories and interviews with people from the industry, which help solidify the concepts. Many pieces of homework are peer graded. Assignments of the others provide insight into ideas, styles, and techniques of people at various stages of career ladder. Those techniques summarize real-life experiences of people managing their subordinates, resolving conflicts, influencing the team, which might not otherwise be accessible to the learners.

Specialization is taught by instructors from the University of Michigan, Ross School of business: Scott DeRue, Full Professor, business school Dean; Maxym Sych, Associate Professor; Cheri Alexander, Chief Innovation Officer. All three are charismatic, knowledgeable, and are great presenters. The material is delivered very coherently and to the point. The lecture slides are very detailed and are great for returning the the material in the future.

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