Training simulations: the value of immersive learning

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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David Newman of explains how experiential simulations, pitting competing teams against each other, offer powerful learning experiences.

Survivor: the banker edition

Imagine the latest weird twist on a TV reality show… You lock up bank managers in a remote location, make them beg for money, and make some of them bankrupt.

This is more or less what has been happening in the UK at Barclays Bank plc. New relationship managers in the bank’s Medium Business section immerse themselves in a business simulation as part of their induction training programme. The simulation, called Decision Base™, is one of a range of business simulations delivered by X Learning Limited.

In competing teams, the managers get the chance to run their own manufacturing business. They work together and decide what products to make. In addition, they decide which markets to enter, how to configure their production lines, how to finance the business and so on.

Facing the demands of running a business

The teams start off on an equal footing. Firstly, they assume responsibility for their business. They appoint themselves into the key roles of marketing, production, finance and corporate intelligence. In the early rounds of the simulation, they battle with scarce resources. Often, the first battle with their own understanding of the complexities of running a business.

After a while – usually after a number of cash crises, bank meetings and operating difficulties – the teams consolidate. They compete with the other teams for market position as well as bring models of business strategy to life.

Ultimately, it is the shareholders that call the tune. They introduce an ever increasing set of performance targets in the later stages of the simulation. They also encourage the teams to drive out operating performance and improve the bottom-line shareholder value.

Along the way, the teams encounter a whole host of issues facing businesses today. Due to the immersive nature of the simulation, most participants live and breathe the simulation throughout its duration – sometimes virtually 24 hours a day! Participants frequently return in the morning complaining of lack of sleep. Many get up at 4:00 am to do a cash flow forecast, and so on.

On one occasion, two teams decided that a merger was the best way to compete in their markets. They worked (under their own volition) until 2:00 am to put the new structure in place! Only on a handful of occasions have the facilitators had to step in to break up loud disagreements – usually between members of the same team!

Experience vs theory

Participants learn – through experience, not traditional teaching – about such issues as strategy, coordination, communication, financial reporting, financial analysis, construction of business plans, cash crises, shareholder value – and lots more beside.

The simulation allows participants to experience the issues, and work them out for themselves, rather than being given the inputs…and probably forgetting them.

As a result, learning comes from experiencing, not teaching. The majority of participants report that the learning achieved during the two day simulation would take weeks, if not months, through traditional learning techniques. Furthermore, they confirm that their learning – because of the intense experience – lasts longer.

Several years on from playing this, and other similar simulations, people still remember who was in their team, what happened, what they disagreed over, and so on. You can’t say that about many training courses!

Helping bankers to better understand business

Ultimately, what the relationship managers gain from the simulation is empathy. They understand the issues facing their business customers, the tensions, the conflicts between idealistic strategies and the real demands of day to day cash crises. They also learn that the bank isn’t always number one on their customers’ agenda – unless money is needed.

After the event, the quality of meetings and interviews improves. The managers start to ask questions about the business. These include the strategy and the implications of that strategy, as well as the time and cost involved in diversifying, putting in new production lines, expanding, and so on.

Any piece of research into “what business customers want from their bank” will always throw out “a bank that understands my business” at the top of the list. The interesting thing is that this particular simulation is designed to help businesses in the manufacturing sector. However, the development of finance-related material has made it work extremely well by “turning the tables” on the bank managers!

About Decision Base™

Decision Base™ is one of a range of business simulations delivered by X Learning Limited. This simulation is focused on a manufacturing environment but it also makes is an excellent table-turner for bankers! Other simulations such as Tango™ focus on organisations where the management of the intangible assets of a business (people, image, brand) are as important as managing the physical assets.

Other simulations include Liven. This is a retail and marketing simulation ideal for regional and local managers running stores and franchises in the retail sector. The simulations themselves are great fun, totally immersing, and offer deep and lasting learning.

The value of simulations

The real value is in setting simulation within the organisation – what people can do afterwards to make a difference to their teams, departments and divisions. Though the simulations are fun, they are also deadly serious. Simulations are relevant. They can ensure that potentially dull and dry subjects are lively, fun, and interesting. They do this through:

  • Accelerated learning techniques
  • Using live company data where possible
  • Providing realistic case studies
  • Drawing learning out from day to day events within the business
  • Allowing participants to directly reflect on the organisation and the job they do
  • Encouraging group work
  • Catering for different learning styles, personality preferences and multiple intelligences
  • Offering blended solutions so that time spent as a group focuses on the really important issues
  • Advocating the use of on-going collaboration

If you’d like to know more about Decision Base, or other business simulations, visit X Learning  or call David Newman on +44 7984 817328 for an informal chat about your needs and how using business simulations could seriously improve your bottom line performance – through your people.



Anne Sexton

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