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.