4 Intro to Business Discussion Questions to Engage Students

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Article Summary

  • Students in Introduction to Business classes are sometimes reluctant to participate in class discussion.
  • Asking students about relevant topics in the news helps to spark conversation.
  • Connecting discussions to the news also helps students apply course material to the world around them.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Marcella Kelly is a Business Professor at Santa Monica College and Cengage author


Now more than ever, finding engaging Introduction to Business discussion questions can feel trying. After two years of a global pandemic, many of us have noticed that students seem reluctant to participate in discussions. This has led to awkward dead air in classrooms and empty space on discussion boards – and doesn’t work for anyone!

This article offers a handful of discussion topics that are pulled from the recent news, connected to Introduction to Business class content, and proven to grab student interest and spark lively discussion. Use these strategies in your virtual and face-to-face classroom or copy and paste them onto your online discussion boards.

Business Discussion Question 1: Who’s Your Daddy?

Apparently, it’s not the CEO of e-commerce giant, Shopify, Tobias Lutke.

Lutke clarified in a companywide email in Spring 2021 that “It should be massively obvious that Shopify is not a family, but I see people, even leaders, casually use terms like ‘Shopifam’ which will cause the members of our teams (especially junior ones that have never worked anywhere else) to get the wrong impression.” He pointed out that “The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you.”

He preferred the analogy to a competitive team, where great performers can be recruited, and poor performers can be fired. Despite the harsh rhetoric, Shopify has a record of excellent performance and a reputation as a great place to work.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you feel if you got an email from the CEO of your company like the email from Tobias Lutke?
  2. Do you think it’s appropriate to compare a workplace to a family or a competitive sports team? Why or why not?

Business Discussion Question 2: The Boss Behaving Badly

About twenty years ago, many analysts assumed that companies had hit a new low for firing employees by giving them the axe via text message: “U R FIRED.” But In 2021, Better Mortgage CEO Vishal Garg set the bar even lower by firing about 15% of the mortgage company’s workforce via Zoom just before the holidays.

“If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off,” Garg said on the call, a recording of which was viewed by CNN Business. Garg also accused the employees of “stealing” from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive and only working two hours a day. Garg then reflected on how difficult the firings were for himself, saying “This is the second time in my career I’m doing this, and I do not want to do this. The last time I did it, I cried.”

This wasn’t the first time the CEO demonstrated a scorched-earth management style. Ten years ago, he sent a memo to his team, reading “HELLO – WAKE UP BETTER TEAM! You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS and…DUMB DOLPHINS get caught in nets and eaten by sharks. SO, STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”  Despite negative publicity from his management style, Garg has attracted massive infusions of capital for his mortgage firm.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it ethical to fire employees via Zoom? Why or why not?
  2. How do you think Garg’s management style will affect the firm in the short term? What about the long term?
  3. Do entrepreneurial skill and difficult personalities often go hand in hand? Why or why not? Please cite examples.

Business Discussion Question 3: Calendar Magic

As the post-pandemic economy kicks back up, burnout looms large. According to Google Vice-President for Southeast Asia Stephanie Davis, who powers through 40 hours of meetings per week, five little pieces of “calendar magic” can battle burnout effectively:

  1. Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Only keep meetings that lead to purpose and priorities.
  2. Group similar tasks together. One example would be only doing emails in the morning or the evening.
  3. Schedule time for meeting prep and follow-up. By including that time on the calendar, meetings won’t throw off your schedule.
  4. Shake up the meeting format. Can the meeting happen as a walk? As a phone call? Face-to-face? Over Skype?
  5. Schedule self-care breaks. Think of what helps you relax. Is it a quick stroll? A cup of tea? Ten minutes of yoga? Whatever it is, schedule it in to make sure it happens.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do to avoid burnout?
  2. Which of these five tips would be most effective? Why?

Business Discussion Question 4: #ChickenWar

In 2019, the fast-food chain Popeyes announced that they planned to become the “iPhone of chicken sandwiches” when they introduced their own version of the fried favorite. They took to Twitter to declare a “#chickenwar” on competitor Chick-fil-A. It created so much buzz that Popeyes sold out of their chicken sandwiches on day one in all 3,000 locations nationwide. The New Yorker Magazine even declared that “the Popeyes chicken sandwich is here to save America.”

In mid-summer 2021, Popeyes called for a ceasefire by introducing chicken nuggets, made with the same batter as their fried chicken sandwich. According to their Chief Marketing Officer Bruno Cardinali, “Now, it’s time to say goodbye to the chicken wars and celebrate our new Nuggets, because we come in piece, 8 pieces to be exact.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which is your favorite fried chicken sandwich?
  2. Where else (other industries) could this aggressively competitive marketing strategy be effective? Why?

Tools for Teaching Introduction to Business

As students re-enter classrooms, whether in person or on Zoom, these prompts can help instructors engage their classes in discussions about how business concepts apply to the world around them. For more ideas on teaching Introduction to Business with current examples of key business concepts, check out BUSN, 12th Edition and its online resources in MindTap.