Interventions that transcend culture
By Thijs Bosselaar

One of our international clients asked us if we could roll out the business simulation we had developed for their European headquarters in the US, India, China and Japan.
International impact

Our answer was a resounding yes. A number of our simulations have already been implemented in different parts of the world.

But, how can one and the same business simulation ensure breakthroughs in countries with completely different cultures from the Western European?


Before I started working at InContext, I’d never seen simulations used as an intervention to bring about organizational change. I only knew them as a tool for training, mostly in the technical professions.

The idea intrigued me and I was fortunate that my first project involved helping to develop a simulation. The simulation was designed to show an organization of 500 people why and how their working methods needed to change. The impact this simulation had on the participants, and on me, was overwhelming.

Since then I’ve developed simulations for customers from a variety of different sectors. However, the simulations I developed had only been implemented in Europe. Colleagues with experience of rolling out simulations in other parts of the world assured me that they work well everywhere, but I needed to experience that for myself.

I got the opportunity to try this out recently when an international customer sent us on a global mission. In just three weeks, we played our business simulation at the company’s regional offices in the United States, India, China and finally, in Japan.

How a simulation works across cultures

It’s clear to me now that our change-focused business simulations do indeed work globally, regardless of the culture and how familiar people are with this form of learning. The intervention was received enthusiastically by everyone and the target learnings and goals were achieved everywhere.

There are three aspects to consider when implementing a simulation in other cultures:

Consideration 1: the simulation

The simulation must remain very closely aligned to reality and reflect the actual business process precisely. This sounds obvious, and it is, but I do need to mention it.

In countries and cultures where people are accustomed to the confrontational style of a simulation, you can run the simulation using a metaphorical world. This can be far removed from reality so long as the process is mirrored precisely. The advantage here is that the temptation to conduct a content driven discussion is reduced, keeping the focus on process and behavior. 

In countries less inclined to be confrontational and where participants are not familiar with this form of learning, it is better to keep the simulation somewhat closer to home. A business simulation is focused on what needs to be changed.

It is a fictional, simplified version of reality, but one that is instantly recognizable and that focuses on the core training targets. This prevents (non-functional) resistance to the learning form itself which, let's be honest, can be uncomfortable and confrontational enough.

In Europe, our business simulation was mainly complimented on its confrontational nature, the emphasis in the US and Asia, however, was far more on the extent to which it reflected reality.

Consideration 2: the facilitator 

The business simulation stays the same, it’s the facilitator who adjusts. The simulation is what it is, it does not change and does not adapt. However, on the other hand, the facilitator who guides the whole must make extremely skillful adaptations.

The biggest lessons of a simulation are in behaviors and in the reflection that follows.

The difference is made by the way the facilitator supervises the process, and how the lessons are translated into practice. The facilitator must discern the acceptable level of confrontation, the right questions to pose and how feedback should be provided. 

Consideration 3: the learnings and the application

You must be aware that cultures have their own way of applying the same lesson.

Although the learning objectives can be the same all over the world, the behavior confirming that the goal has been achieved can be expressed in different ways.

An example: one of the goals of the simulation was to encourage people to be more challenging to one another and to be more critical. In Europe, this lesson was often expressed simply with comments such as ‘I don’t agree with you’ or ‘I would do it differently’. In the US and especially the Asian countries, however, this did not happen. Here participants learned the same lesson, but the way it was applied was a lot less direct and more questioning, for example; 'What makes you think that?' Or 'Could you expand on that?' 

Posing a question was just as confrontational and difficult for these groups as a statement of disagreement was for Europeans. Same lesson, another application.

In the coming months, I’ll be working on a new business simulation for the management of one of our international clients. 

The purpose of the simulation is to demonstrate to leaders how current and future digital resources can be applied in the different parts of their business and what is required of them as leaders of teams who work with these new technologies. 

Our participants will also be from all corners of the world! 

Want to know more about business simulations that transcend culture?

Contact: Thijs Bosselaar
Want to know more about business simulations that transcend culture?