When I interview participants in, and sponsors of, Game-based Learning (GBL) events for teams the benefits they report (directly and indirectly) consistently fall into 5 clear categories.
These are 1) Virtual Experience, 2) Social Learning, 3) Resolving Dilemmas, 4) Dealing with Change and Pressure (aka Agility) and 5) Increased Confidence and Ambition.
- Virtual Experience
This is the classic flight simulator learning model where participants get to try out ‘dangerous things’ in a safe and forgiving environment with no adverse business consequences. ‘Virtual Experience’ is not only the important decision-making which participants can practice but also the scenarios they encounter. Also the major and minor unexpected ‘shocks’ which they have either brought on themselves or which have been pre-programmed into the simulation game beyond the participants control.
- Social Learning
Social Learning is learning from others through conversation and sharing. In the context of GBL this means learning from fellow game participants, subject matter experts, facilitators and senior business participants. It is a common lament of larger companies that ‘we don’t know what we know’. A well-designed social GBL game is one of the most effective ways for organizations to disseminate and spread knowledge, experience and best practice between colleagues.
- Resolving Dilemmas
Any well designed GBL event will present the participants with dilemmas. These can come in many forms and include business dilemmas, leadership and team dilemmas. Simulation games should reflect the real world in that there are rarely enough resources (such as money, people, machinery and stock) to achieve everything you would ideally like to achieve.
Hard choices have to be made in the light of the participants understanding of their organizational priorities, targets and values. A well facilitated team game can allow participants the space to ‘play with dilemmas’ creatively in a much more relaxed way than would ever be possible in their real jobs. In so doing they may discover some new solutions and approaches they never even considered before.
- Dealing with Change and Pressure (Agility)
As well as having to address dilemmas and scarcities a GBL event should also model the real world situation that things are always changing unexpectedly and that there is always a time pressure factor. This is very the essence of ‘agility’ – the ability to handle unexpected change well and in a timely manner.
One of the most important leadership skills is to be able to determine which deadlines can be moved and which ones cannot. For example, the discipline of submitting your team’s results on time (or being penalised) helps people understand the non-negotiability of certain financial reporting deadlines particularly in big organisations where there is an extensive review and consolidation process which, to work, requires all its inputs competed and submitted to a strict deadline.
- Increased Confidence and Ambition
Finally, a common theme reported by game participants 3-6 months have a game event is that they feel more confident and are taking on bigger responsibilities in their jobs/roles. When I ask the question ‘why’ a common response is that the game they played was very challenging but yet they still succeeded (for example, running a flour mill or a country business unit in the face of challenging trading and market conditions)!
The participants in such as game often feel they, and their colleagues, really achieved something worthwhile. There is interesting learning here for GBL designers around ‘requisite difficulty’. A game needs to be difficult enough to be a real challenge and for the ‘jury to be out’ until near the end as to whether they will succeed or not. But it must not be so difficult that participants feel they failed in the end as most (but not all) people find it hard to take positive learning from this kind of experience.
In a sense this final benefit is really a consequence of the other 4 benefits but I encounter it so frequently I think it is worth listing it here separately.
This is a short extract from Ken’s new book on Game-Based Learning in Organizational Teams.
About Ken Thompson