The unique value of gaming in organizational change
By Thomas Benedict

Now that we no longer go on trainings as often or for as long as we used to, we keep up the search for effective, fun and less costly ways to update our knowledge and skills. The organizational change and L&D markets are very trend sensitive and every so often something new pops up.

Over the last few years, management games and simulations have been on the up and up. Is this just a hype that will hopefully blow over soon? Or is there something valuable in these creative learning techniques that is hard to achieve in any other way?

Playing with reality

As I see it, there are four things that make the simulation of an organization remarkably effective.

Recognizable familiarity

When participants begin to recognize their own processes, structures, working practices, agreements and culture in the simulation, it not only means that the time is well spent, but also that participants are prepared to invest a huge amount of energy in the simulation. This means high impact in a short time span. 

Freedom to experiment

There are a number of different ways to get results. A good simulation offers participants the opportunity to take alternative routes and to experience the effects of their actions. Experiential learning: both respectful and productive.

This effect is increased when participants collaborate. They discover the effects of the sum total of individual decisions and behavior. In short, they learn together to optimize results, and that leads almost immediately to quantifiable results back in the workplace.

We regularly build simulations facilitating various experimental strategies. Needless to say that it’s many times cheaper to fail in a simulated environment than in reality.

Relevance

Recently, I watched a very detailed simulation of a large organization. A beautiful representation of reality. Thousands of variables dancing up and down. I was lost in admiration. However, as an appropriate tool for learning and change something important was missing, namely, focus. Participants take a long time to understand such complexity and are not quick to zoom in on the relevant part of the simulation.

It is better to make intelligent choices in the development process so that the simulation is a simplified version of reality that directs attention to the relevant section of the system, namely, the parts the target group are able to influence something.

Systems thinking

Organizations are complex systems. Just to mention a few factors; it isn’t easy to understand how cause and effect are related, short term solutions are often at odds with long term solutions and most decisions have unintended consequences.

Simulations are an excellent place to understand these complex, but extremely relevant issues and to apply the learning in the participant’s own practice. Participants learn to understand how solutions can be found for long-lasting conflicts, ‘insoluble” problems and regularly returning bottlenecks. 

Insight isn’t fleeting

Simulations of your own organization deliver important advantages. For years now we have seen how simulations bring about long-term measurable positive effects, but why is this?

In contrast to the vast majority of learning methods, a simulation doesn’t really attempt a direct change in behavior; rather it aims to change insight that then leads to different behaviors. That means that participants learn to see and understand something that they didn’t see before. Very different from skills learning, that can quickly become obsolete, insight isn’t fleeting. 

Once you’ve learned to see something, you can’t easily overlook it.

Watershed

Why isn’t everyone burning with enthusiasm about management games and business simulations?

Of course, not all simulations or games deliver all the advantages described above. That’s because both clients and providers are often too optimistic about the relevance or the re-use of a simulation. A simulation is best compared to a pair of glasses. I can see really well through my own glasses, but that doesn’t mean you can, too.

Naturally, there are generic subjects for which a simulation may be applicable, for example, labor union negotiations.

There are important similarities between one negotiation and another, so that a wider target group can use a relevant simulation.

Organization specific simulations are, however, almost never re-usable while still maintaining their original quality and effectiveness. Unfortunately, time and money are wasted everyday on simulations required to do something they were never designed for.

Your possibilities to use gamification in organizational change?

Meet our expert: Thomas Benedict
Your possibilities to use gamification in organizational change?