Previous Article Next Article Play to winOn 1 Feb 2002 in Personnel Today In business, playing the game is important. But game playing can be just ascrucial to business success, says John Handley. Just taking part, though, isnot enough. You have to aspire to learn and be willing to put ideas intopractice if you really want to add a new – human – dimension to your businessstrategy.Business games can transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, and theywork between various management levels and different business functions –between education and industry, public sector and private enterprise. So, what exactly are business games, or simulations? Think of them as thecommercial management equivalent of the simulator for racing-drivers, pilots orastronauts. Using a business simulation, a group of people can test commercialdecision-making in a relatively risk-free environment, with only personal egosat stake, and without the risk of commercial failure. Organisations request our simulations for many uses: – to develop commercial awareness; – to highlight interdepartmental understanding and co-operation; – to consolidate corporate identity following organisational re-structuring,mergers or acquisitions; – to encourage and develop strategic vision and creative thinking; todevelop teamwork and decision-making skills; – to encourage networking by bringing together personnel from differentgeographical locations; – or as part of an detailed assessment. Games often come into play at company conferences as a tool to change thepace, offering a quick shift into group activity, which can motivate, challengeand instruct. Learning with fun is a potent mix. One beauty of a business game is that it can meet diverse objectives, andcan be ‘topped and tailed’ to meet precise goals. Some contend that it is ‘onlya game’, that what goes on in the game play is not what would happen in reallife. But experienced facilitators argue just the opposite: What goes on withinthe business game group frequently mirrors day to day personal confrontationsand different perspectives which can either enrich or, more frequently sadly,hinder or even de-rail the decision-making process. “What happened today is what happens at work,” is an expressionone often hears at the end of a business game. However, “I did all thenumbers, I told them how it was and what we had to do, but they wouldn’t listen– until we went bankrupt”, is also a regular assessment. Seldom does aplayer admit “I just couldn’t convince them. I just didn’t have thenecessary skill to persuade them that my analysis and ideas were sound.” In the past, the main thrust has been to use business simulations toincrease commercial awareness, to emphasise total business profitability andcross-functional dependency. Now, the focus is increasingly on the humandimension in business. The same models are used but facilitation differs. Anexample is the increasing use of a business simulation in dealing with change –a real issue for most at some point in our lives. Change is more prevalent inbusiness today than possibly ever before because of the speed of technologicaldevelopments and the uncertainties of an ever increasingly competitive andglobal market place. Simulations become useful then as a tool to help peoplerecognise the reality of a change, and to be able to analyse and handle itpositively. Cherry picking In one game, qualified observers watch teams of five who act as the board ofdirectors, working together to drive their company towards profit. The change intervention is to move one or two members out of a team, as ifheadhunted by a competitor. Common reactions are of annoyance and frustrationthat the team has been broken up. The effect is more extreme if the team feelsit has been operating successfully up to that point. The members who leave theteam are always regarded as the ‘best’ members. The replacements are regardedas ‘cast-offs’ from the competitors. It takes time, rational thought andunderstanding to challenge this instinctive reaction which more easily sees thenegative side of change. In a de-briefing session, the participants’ attention is drawn to theirresponses to change and they are made aware of the chain of reaction. Then, andonly then, can the healing process begin and lead to the development of newbehaviour patterns that will hopefully lead to better team-working and improveddecision-making. For young executives cutting their teeth in a leading financial company, andwho regularly switch between new project teams, experiencing this in arelatively risk-free environment proves to be a powerful and valuable lesson.The organisation benefits, and life becomes more exciting and rewarding for thenew executives as they learn to embrace change. Top bananas A similar ploy with an organisation’s top management team reveals whyprogress is so difficult in day-to-day situations. After working together for two days at a conference in ‘running’ awell-established business, members of each team are ‘made offers they cannotrefuse’ and accordingly transfer their experience, skill and knowledge to acompetitive team. Uncertainty is a common reaction. Other feelings – such asresentment, annoyance, anger, disappointment, surprise, delight, welcomingsmiles – are also evident. Some teams see a newcomer as a new asset, and are quick to absorb them intotheir team – information is shared, resulting in wider knowledge of the market.Other teams treat newcomers cautiously, revealing nothing of their strategy.And there are teams that treat newcomers with disdain and gain nothing from theadditional resource. Where one newcomer joins a team of two, the original pairstrengthen their working bond. Where two newcomers join two existing members,the balance of power has to be negotiated. The behaviour is often entirely atone with previous professional assessments and also with individuals’confidential opinions of their colleagues. In fact, this ‘game’ turned out tobe a microcosm of the organisation concerned – mirroring the daily activitiesof the managers involved. Plum positions Project management cultures provide fertile ground for business games.Learning how to juggle several projects simultaneously is crucial for managerswho find competition high for their time and expertise. In this instance, whensuch experience is the aim, the business simulation is only one of severalconcurrent tasks. The process is paramount to the learning and qualifiedobservers work with the groups as well as the business game facilitator. As an assessment tool, the game is simply a catalyst for behaviouralobservation. It is not the commercial success that is being measured, althoughthat remains the players’ goal. What is being assessed is individuals’ capacityto lead a group, fit into a team, use data, analyse, and his or herdecisiveness, flexibility, clear-headedness, imagination and creativity – or,communication skills in their widest sense. In this simulation, it is no longer necessary for the playing field to be levelfor all teams at the start. The game facilitator sets the starting positionsfollowing predetermined strategies for the competing teams. The players need todeal with the position they inherit, and the situation left by theirpredecessors. In most game plays, data gradually builds up for teams to handle,but in this game they are bombarded from the start with data, graphs andcharts. A joint-venture company is created from the existing teams to avoid anoverseas competitor buying into the market. The venture capitalist supportingthis initiative sets performance standards. Employee trades unions enter intonegotiations when profits surge. The simulation in this case is the essentialskeletal framework on which any amount of flesh can be hung by imaginative andskillful educators. One of the strongest messages to emerge in all simulations is how thesubject of the brief does not seem to matter. Tasks, as opposed to processes,predominate in most peoples’ behaviour. It does not seem to matter when the exercise’saim is simply to run your business successfully or profitably. The behaviour isalways task-oriented and the goal is to win, to be the most profitable,allowing players’ inherent competitiveness to generate momentum to a grandfinale. Industry has always had difficulty convincing its different functionalelements to talk with each other and to understand their inter-dependence.Increasing specialisation demands that greater awareness is needed of thewhole. In the orchard of personal development, business simulations are a meansof harvesting the fruit of successful communications. John Handley is a management development consultant atthe Cranfield School of Management and general manager of Cranfield BusinessGames. Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.