How do business simulations work?

Simulation Participants

How do I implement a business simulation into my course?

We explore some of the questions, challenges and opportunities education professionals might face when implementing a business simulation into their curriculum: this article will seek to provide answers and offer a solid basis to start from.

We have recently exposed our view of why business simulations are the perfect tool to engage your students and a steeper learning curve, regardless of whether you are teaching online or in a class – lucky you if you are allowed!

Let’s say you have made up your mind and decided to go for one of our business simulations in Marketing, for your MBA students, as an example. Now what?


Not everyone is familiar with business simulations facilitation

For some of you, game-based learning is either something you have heard of or read about, or in the best-case scenario, something you are already familiar engaging with – the proportion of professors who have never played or facilitated a serious game, a business game or a business simulation is, however, still substantial.

Our tools incorporate a level of simplified complexity that enables participants to learn a lot about the dynamics of running a business, and the levers that can be pushed and pulled to outperform competitors. Yet, as smart as the underlying software can be, our business simulations are comparable to cooking: you can have the best ingredients at hand, if you neither have a recipe nor a slight experience of what you are trying to achieve, there is a high chance it won’t work out.

So, as we always ask our participants’ teams, we ask you as a facilitator to visualize what your objectives are before getting to play the game with your students:
- Is it a team-building experience to reward students at the end, or at the start of a program?
- Are you trying to illustrate a specific concept/aspect, or all aspects of your course within the timeframe of the simulation?
- Do you want students to play all through the semester or is it a one-time event over two or three days?

If the answer to such questions is not yet clear to you, now is the time!

Set your objectives for this simulation experience

How will it impact the playing experience? For example, in case you would like to focus on the team-building aspect of the business game, you might want to squeeze in less theoretical frameworks during plenary sessions, and have students focus more on the brainstorming and the decision parts – thereby focusing on the moments of interaction among participants and with you as their coach.

This could be topped by a presentation by teams, at the end of the game, during which they will guide other participants through their experience designing their strategy, how they organized their teams, what type of challenges they encountered and what they particularly liked of and learned from the simulation. Additional ideas could include a role-play, where students must convince a jury of business angels, based on their first few decisions and their forecast of what the markets will look like by the end of the game.

Finally, why not putting a reward at stake for the overall winner? From a school-branded agenda to a team dinner in a restaurant, let yourself be creative, within budget of course.

The question of whether you score your students performance should also be posed, especially if you are leaning towards a team-building experience rather than an exam.

If your intent is to illustrate through gamification one or some of the concepts you teach in your course, then evaluating your students will be a good idea: one-off exams can prove stressful and not necessarily render a correct image of the knowledge and business acumen of your students. Why not, then, base part of their final score on their performance during the simulation? This could include the team decision aspect, the strategic intent and how well they performed given their intent: we use this system among some of our clients, where we ask students to fill in a logbook, with their observations of the markets, how other teams perform and why they perform as they do, what their strategy should be and how they will get there.

When your intention is to illustrate concepts from your class, you are free to use our available sets of slides, built with experts and professors of the domain, but you are also welcome to use your own course content and plug the simulation decisions as you go: for example, some schools run one decision per week, with professors presenting results and providing tips to teams for the next decision. With trial rounds, the whole simulation can run over 10 weeks and cover your whole semester.

Some other professors prefer a condensed program, over three days for example, at the end of the semester: students are less time-pressured by other classes and have had the whole semester to gain business knowledge, that they apply when playing the simulation.

It’s pretty clear, therefore, that you have a lot of flexibility around how you use our games, isn’t it?

Who is facilitating the program and why does it matter?

Once you have the objective part settled, you will want to think about logistics! The first question regarding logistics will be: where is the seminar taking place?

Is it online? Then you will want to check whether your institution uses a conference call platform that allows for subgroup chat functions. From experience, we have used ZOOM and Microsoft Teams and the latter seems to have the upper hand when it comes to browsing comfort for both facilitators and participants: in the context of the simulation, you will want chatting/calling spaces where all students can gather with facilitators, spaces where participants from the same playing environment meet, and spaces where teams can brainstorm and make their decisions. Though it seems challenging to organize when you are no tech-native, we assure you that it is very straightforward, and we will be happy to support you setting up the environment.

If it’s face-to-face, you’ll want to book a few rooms in your organizations, so you can spread teams and avoid having teams from the same environment sitting next to one another – that’s why Apple’s HQ are in Cupertino, CA, and Microsoft’s in Seattle, WA – they don’t want to be neighbors for obvious reasons.

The next question will be: how do I get myself prepared to facilitate? There again, we have a solution for you and your TA!

If you and/or your teammates are facilitating, we will organize a train-the-trainer session with you, which represents between 6-8 hours spread over a few days, and where we will onboard you, so the context and dynamics of the simulation no longer have secrets for you. We will also seize the opportunity to help you build the facilitation agenda and will provide you with our tips to optimize the business simulation playing experience from both your perspective and that of participants! If you are short on time or already familiar with how to facilitate such a game, we will cut down on training time and provide you with self-study material, such as slides, videos, and documents to help you get up to speed seamlessly.

Another option is for us to facilitate the simulation bit for you, as we have over 30 years of experience with business games, or even to facilitate with you so you can rely on us to answer your questions and provide insights on the go. In such a case, you will not need to train your team or to think about how in-depth your knowledge of the game is.

Some of our clients also rely on us to answer students’ questions and/or provide our analysis of results to facilitators after each round, without actively facilitating with the teaching team: this means we are not coaching students, but we provide insights that help students and that help professors better fine-tune their coaching.

What comes at the end of the simulation?

As mentioned above, depending on your objectives, you can have teams present their learning experience to other teams, identify missed opportunities and things that worked well. Alternatively, you can take the experience further, and ask participants to start a real-life project now that they have acquired more business acumen or ask them to think of an industry and draw links between what happened in that industry and the dynamics they perceived in the simulation!

Finally, we invite you to keep the suspense intact before you announce who the winner of each universe (learning environment) is. We usually gather all participants in the plenary and announce the winner of each universe one by one, providing a short analysis of what we identified in this learning environment, so students maximize their learning. At the very end, we announce who the winner is… among all the winners, and this is usually where participants start to clap their hands, scream with joy and crack a smile looking back at the inspiring experience they have just lived.

Does this resonate? Then we should talk!

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