The unique value of gaming in organizational change

Now that we attend fewer trainings and those we do for considerably shorter periods of time, we keep up the search for attractive, effective and budget friendly ways of helping people to develop their knowledge and skills. The market for Organizational Change and Learning and Development are very trend sensitive and from time to time something new pops up.

Games and simulations have been on an upward trend for the last few years. Should we regard this as a hype that hopefully blows over sooner rather than later? Or is there a gem hidden in this creative form of learning which is hard to acquire in any other way?

Playing around with reality

1. Recognition
When participants can quickly recognize their own processes, structures, ways of working and culture in a simulation it doesn’t only mean that time is being spent usefully. It means participants are prepared and more than willing to invest a great deal of energy in the simulation. It delivers a massive impact in a short space of time.

2. Freedom to experiment
There are a number of different ways to get from A to B. A good simulation offers players the space to experiment with different options, to alter their behavior and to experience the effects of their actions. This is learning through experience: both respectful and effective. The effect is magnified when participants are involved in this together. They experience the effects of the sum total of individual decisions and behavior.
They learn to optimize results jointly and collaboratively, which leads almost immediately to measurable results in the workplace. We regularly build simulations in which a variety of strategies can be tried out. It’s obvious that it is a great deal cheaper to fail in a simulated environment than in real life.

3. Relevance
Recently I took a look at an extremely detailed simulation of a large organization. A gorgeous reflection of reality. Thousands of variables were gaily dancing around. I can only stand and gaze in admiration. However, as an applicable tool for learning and change, something important was missing: focus.
Players take a long time to understand complexity like that and don’t zoom in straight away to the relevant parts of the simulation. It is better to speed up making appropriate choices early in the development process, whereby the simulation is a simplified version of reality, which, in turn directs the attention to the relevant parts of the system, namely the things that the participants themselves can influence in some way.

4. Systems Thinking
Organizations are complex systems, and because of this it isn’t easy to understand how cause and effect are related, how short and long term solutions can often be incompatible, and that most decisions have unintended consequences. And this is just the start…. Simulations are the best place to understand these complex but very real issues and to apply that understanding to one’s own situation. Participants are then able to understand how workable solutions to long lasting conflicts, “unsolvable” problems and recurring bottlenecks can be sought and applied.

Insight is not fleeting

Simulations of your own organization deliver important advantages. For many years we have noted that simulations create measurable long lasting positive effects, but why is this? In contrast to the large majority of learning tools and methods, simulations do not aim so much at a direct change in behavior, as at a change of insight, which then leads on to other behavior. That means that participants learn to see and to thoroughly understand issues that they previously were not able to recognize and see. In contrast to say, skills, which can quickly fade away, insight is not fleeting. Once you have learned to see something you will not easily overlook it again.


What could be the reason, then, that not everyone is burning with enthusiasm for games and simulations? Of course, not every simulation or game delivers all the advantages described above. An important reason for this is because clients and providers try to re-use carefully designed organization simulations for situations they were not originally intended to cover. A simulation is best compared to a pair of glasses. I can see well with my own glasses, but that is not to say that you would too.

There are naturally generic topics suitable for simulation, such as negotiations, sales situations and general management and collaboration issues. Groups and individuals can get some real value from participating in such a generic simulation, as long as the simulated situation is recognizable and relevant to their daily work, but this is difficult to compare to the impact of a bespoke simulation.

Organization specific simulations are very rarely re-usable without losing much of their original quality and value. Unfortunately, time and money are wasted regularly on replaying simulations that are expected to do something that they were never designed nor meant for in the first place.

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