Spare Time use of Business Simulations
Here, small teams of managers meet outside office hours to work on a business simulation and submit decisions that are processed and the results returned several days later. Here I explore the reasons for use, practicalities of use and suggest some suitable business simulations.
Spare Time Learning involves teams in remote locations spending an hour or two every one or two weeks meeting to work on the simulation. At they end of the meeting they submit decisions (by E-mail) to the remote trainer who at a designated time takes all decisions and processes them. Team results are then returned by E-mail to be analysed at the next meeting. This process is repeated six to eight times. At the end of this each team submits a written report about their objectives, strategy etc. that is evaluated by the trainer and forwarded to the other teams.
It maintains the quality and effectiveness of team based and tutored learning but at lower cost.
Reasons for Use
Practical Issues with use
Suitable Business Simulations
IMPROVE & REFRESH LEARNING
Classically, training consists of sending executives on short courses and relying on them to remember what they learned. Even if this is backed by distance learning packages this is done on a voluntary, individual and, often, unmanaged basis. With simulations, there is the opportunity to improve and refresh knowledge without the heavy cost of a course or the uncertainty of individual development.
Personal development though distant learning or e-learning is often a lone activity. The complexity of business and management requires a wider knowledge base. Working as a member of a group provides this. Also, group working is catalytic, with members triggering each other into thought.
BUILD & MIX TEAMS
A general management simulation requires a mix of functional skills. With teams being made of executives from different functions (such as finance, operations, marketing etc.) there is an opportunity to build contacts outside one's own function (often for the first time). Not only does this provide a rich mix of skills but improves understanding of the problems facing others.
Although it is possible to run simulations with no tutorial input, as described below, to ensure effective learning, a tutor should be involved. However, this involvement is much less than required for a normal course. Also, we have found it beneficial for a local senior manager to act as coach
USE SPARE TIME
Much of the work done by participants is in their "spare time". Except the briefing, tutor visits and the review, work can be done outside office hours. Thus, unlike conventional courses, participants are not off-the-job and there are little or no accommodation costs.
Probably the key business resource today is people. To capitalise on this resource it is necessary to develop and refresh skills. Unfortunately, skills development, especially on residential courses, is costly. To reduce this there has been a move towards distance learning where executives develop their skills in their spare time. Although effective for many skills areas, distance learning is a lonely activity and does not provide an opportunity to share ideas. Sharing ideas is important for management development where, at best, the subject is nebulous. The "spare time" simulation is a hybrid. It lies between distance learning and residential courses. It has many cost benefits of distance learning but with the learning effectiveness of a tutored course.
Although it is possible to run this activity with no tutor involvement, this does not ensure learning. It is suggested that the tutor should be directly involved towards the start of the activity, once during the simulation and at a review session. Throughout the simulation telephone support should be provided. Involvement at the start of the simulation might be a briefing for the group as a whole. Or the tutor might arrange to visit each team in turn after they have stated their preparing their strategies, organised themselves and set initial objectives but before they have made their first decision. Half way through the simulation, perhaps at year-end, each team should be visited and required to present a management plan. At the end of the simulation the group as a whole should meet with each team making a presentation.
In order for the simulation to challenge the participants it must be quite complex with several dozen decisions being made each period. This level of complexity is necessary because although the group may only be meeting for only an hour or possibly two each week they will be reflecting on the simulation at other times. Therefore a simulation that might be too complex for short course use would be suitable here.
Because of the complexity of the simulation and to ensure that the tutor remains in contact, telephone/e-mail support should be available. The telephone support must at fixed times, otherwise the tutor will be constantly interrupted!
TUTOR SUPPORT SYSTEM
The design of the simulation can help. If, beside normal team reports, a series of reports are produced that explain results, identify weaknesses etc. This simplifies telephone support, the identification of learning and, possibly, motivational problems and forms a basis for the review.
Motivation to take part can be increased if a "winning" team is chosen and receives a small prize and a trophy.
Source: Churchill Fellowship Study and chapter in my latest book - Corporate Cartooning Book (find out more).
Most recent update: 16/06/14
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