How business simulations can make better teams?

Published on Tuesday 3 April 2012 by in Blog with no comments

I just read a blog from Dan Schawbel on Forbes. The article was based on an interview with Rosabeth Moss Kanter and was entitled ‘How to build a succesful company in 2012‘. I was inspired by this article because I believe it demonstrates the real value of Business Simulations as learning and development instruments. Instruments that can help businesses thrive and grow, and be able to face the challenges of 2012.

In the blog from Dan I have identified the following key competences that organizations need to develop in order to become more effective in 2012. In this blog I want to explain how Business Simulations can develop these competences.
To become a better company these are the key competences:
  1. Agile and resilient companies, in which people become the differentiating factor
  2. A Learning organization, taking bold steps, learning and correcting quickly
  3. Sharing values and principles
  4. Empowering the workforce to make their own decisions
These capabilities imply a need for effective communication and the ability for people to work together. Making decisions and and changing the way they work together, focused on achieving shared goals. This is in effect the essence of a Business Simulation or serious game. I will refer to these as ‘Sim(s)’ in the rest of this article. In a Sim a number of employees are challenged to work together as a team in a context that is outside their normal day of work. This will be a game based or simulation based environment. This context will challenge the employees in an exercise which will contain 3-4 game rounds. As the game develops it will become more difficult, more complex and will require higher levels of skills to be successful.

Agile and resilient people
Since a sim pushes participants in new, challenging situations, the team can only be successful if each of the individuals can change behavior and change ways of working during the game exercise. At the end of each round the team has a 30 minute reflection and improvement cycle.  They will then experience the outcome of their improvements in the next round of the simulation. At the end of the simulation the real learning starts by reflecting on how effective they were and how they achieved this. Effective questions are:
  • How did we react to the changing environment?
  • What did we do in order to change our team behavior to be more successful, even in the new situation?
  • What did we learn?
  • What can we reuse during our day to day work?
These questions will teach the team how to be agile and resilient when faced with changes in the day to day work environment.

A learning organization, taking bold steps, learning and correcting quickly
A Sim is in fact a learning experience. Most of the sims will use the learning cycle of Kolb as a structure to learn. My experience is that not many companies are using this learning cycle in their own working environment. In fact one of the cards often chosen during our world wide surveys into ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture)  reveals that ‘Plan, Do, stop….’ is one of the top 10 worst practices identified.

The steps in the learning cycle we use in our simulations are:
DO
We inspire the team to design and execute their own processes. Just DO (test and apply) what they agreed and experience the effect.
REFLECT 
We stop the time and explore what we did and what the results were. Are we satisfied? Did we get the results we were expecting from a working processes? What do we need to improve?
THINK 
This is the next step in the reflection. We want to avoid jumping too quickly to solutions. That is why we slow down the process and only go to the thinking stage if the team has enough ideas to think in terms of solutions. Now it is time to think about “what can we change?” or “what can we improve?”
DECIDE 
This is probably the most difficult part of the learning process. Now it is time to agree as a team what we are going to implement in our team. We must agree how we are going to work during the next game round.

By performing this cycle 3 times during the simulation we can teach the team how to do this themselves, and we can challenge them to apply this in their day to day work. Developing capabilities to reflect and improve as a team.

Sharing Values and Principles
Each of the simulations we design have a very clear objective. It is communicated to the team by the game leader or preferably by the person assuming the leadership role in the simulation. Very often these values and principles and objectives are agreed in advance with the sponsor of the simulation.  Based on this objective the team will start designing and agreeing processes, outcomes and behaviors. It is interesting to see how most of the teams will share values and principles without knowing this.

As a facilitator I hear participants saying: “I believe this is not good customer focus” or “I think in order to save the Crew (of Apollo13) we must act more like a team, we must follow our agreed processes and we must say if we don’t understand what we need to do!”, or “we need to confront and challenge people who do not follow these agreements”. These are just a few examples.
How many time do you hear employees say this during day to day work? 
By reflecting on this, making participants aware of this and demonstrating the results of this on their performance, teams can benefit from this experience for their day to day work. Important questions during reflection are:
  • Which values did we share during this simulation?
  • How did we arrive at those values and principles?
  • What results did we achieve having shared principles and values?
  • What can we use from this in our day to day work?
Empowerment
A business simulation is the environment to demonstrate the vale of empowerment. All participants must discover how to work together, they have to make their own decisions and are fully responsible for the outcome of the day. The facilitator of the game will facilitate not only the game exercise but will gacilitate the learning process helping the team discover and learn. 
It is always interesting to observe how the team is dealing with this new environment, new roles, uncertainty, new processes, new roles. It is also interesting to see how quickly they all absorb these new challenges and discover a variety of innovative solutions they never used in their work environment.

During reflection typical questions to explore are?
  • What decisions did you make during this day?
  • How did you make them? 
  • How many times did you ask the game leader if it was allowed to do something?
  • What can we use from this in day to day work?
Conclusion
  1. During a one day interactive workshop, using a Business Simulation or serious game a team of people can experience, in practice, how to become a successful team, focusing on real life problems and challenges.
  2. They can explore and experiment in a safe environment and discover what they need to apply in their day to day work in order to become that successful team.
  3. They can also learn how to develop their own reflection and improvement skills as a team.
  4. You need a good facilitator that supports the learning process of the team to help them capture the learning outcomes and support them how to apply these during day to day work.
  5. You also need a manager who will take the lessons learned from the business simulation and translate them to the day to day work processes in the teams.

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