My business simulations are designed to be used by small groups of learners and here I explore how to setup these teams to ensure that participants can learn from each other and not be overwhelmed or underwhelmed! It covers functional, gender, management level and psychological mix..
Many adult learning activities involve the learners split in to small teams each of which work on a learning activity and although this page is centred on business simulation team formation the topics explored apply equally to team formation for case studies, small group discussions, games and role-plays.
Team Formation Issues
Generally, the best team size is four or five as this ensures a good mix of experience and ensures that all take part and learn from each other. However, for simpler simulations (such as my Concepts Series) or for senior management a team size of as few as three may be appropriate. Where the group consists of people with a mix of first languages and they are working in a common language a team size of six is appropriate.
Even if the simulations does not involve interaction in the same marketplaces (competitive between teams) it is desirable for there to be several teams - ideally four or five. This is because teams can learn from each other (cognitive benefit) and as the competitors jockey for position teams are motivated (affective benefit). If there will be less than three teams it is sensible to run a dummy team where the tutor makes decisions. If this is done the tutor should be reactive, make decisions before the teams do and make decisions that stimulate thought and discussion. Although my Tutor Mediated simulations can run with up to eight teams, where there needs to be more than five. decision-entry will be prolonged and you may need a second tutor. There is a lesser problem with Direct Use simulations, except it may be necessary to have a second tutor.
In my experience this is crucial and vital for Total Enterprise simulations like my Challenge Series, Strategy Series and Tactical Series. There are two reasons for this. First, such a team has cross functional viewpoints and this enhances learning and discussion. Secondly, teams feel deprived if, for example, they do not have an accountant but other teams do - thus lack of appropriate functional mix can be demotivating (even if the knowledge need is basic).
The received wisdom is that the ladies should be spread amongst the teams and I have empirical, anecdotal evidence that this is true. This is not because, for example, putting all the females in one team, will impact learning. Once, while running a course consisting of two thirds men and one third women, I decided to setup the breakout groups to analyse and report on a case study so that all the women were in one team and the men in the other two teams. On handing out the team lists I was barracked. What happened then was interesting. The women decided that they would smash the men into the ground and the men felt very, very threatened. As a consequence, the whole group worked through the evening late into the night - the presentations next morning were brilliant. Unfortunately, the group was so exhausted by the next evening that they asked to postpone the activity planned to the next day.
On several occasions I have run simulations where the participants are a mix of senior and more junior management and have found that if you put all the senior management in one team they aggressively try to ensure that they win. Spreading the senior management amongst the teams is probably better as it also allows them to informally assess the junior staff. However, there is a risk that the junior management defer to the senior manager or managers in their team. An alternative, where there are some senior managers in the group and there are enough junior managers, is to use the senior managers as coaches - a role that I have found they enjoy immensely.
Here we set up the teams with an appropriate mix of psychological characteristics. However, I had one client that tried this but corporate culture meant that there was a very narrow range of team working characteristics and thus it was not possible for each team to have a full psychological mix.
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Information on this page is from my book SIMULATION: Virtual Business Experience
© 2010 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall
Most recent update: 01/01/15
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