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Simulate to Stimulate - The 8 key benefits of simulations and decision making exercises

The chances are that you would never even dream of boarding a plane where the crew had not been drilled in how to cope in the event of an engine fire. You probably can't even imagine trusting your life to a heart surgeon who'd never performed a surgical procedure or to trust the lives of your loved ones to a team of firefighters who don't know their role when the alarm sounds. Yet every day in business we appoint managers and leaders to make critical decisions in turbulent times without really knowing if they have what it takes to cut the mustard.

Decision making exercises, business war-games, red-teams and scenario exercises allow organisations to take a different approach to leadership development. These approaches have eight key strengths:

1. Stimulating innovative and creative thinking in a low risk environment.

A realistic scenario allows learners to experience the type of decision making challenge that they will only face in moments of crisis – moments that they do not come across in their day to day working lives. Such activities provide opportunities to stimulate innovative and creative thinking in a low risk environment. The process of being involved in a closed door session serves to focus the mind of managers and leaders on the situation that is unfolding before their eyes and allows focussed discussion in a way that the normal day-to-day activities do not allow. It allows us to move the organisation to a point in time where the conditions are changed, where we can explore the relationship between cause and effect, and see how leadership decisions can led to success... or failure

2. Challenging standard paradigms and strategic thinking

Decision making exercises, red teams, simulations and business wargames create the types of situational thinking and awareness that generates new thinking, sometimes in some areas very fundamental to the business, its aims and its strategy. Such events can be a great way of assessing the suitability of selected strategies. In this way they challenge standard mental paradigms and strategic thinking. They allow us to expose and challenge assumptions, bias and groupthink.

3. Identifying blindspots and new opportunities

As Weick and Sutcliffe (2001) tell us, "In that brief interval between surprise and successful normalising lies one of your few opportunities to discover what you don't know". There are few better ways to assess the viability of a new strategy, campaign or initiative than to put the concept through a red team, simulation or business wargame. These events can help to identify blind spots in your thinking or levels of preparation that, when actively assessed, can improve resilience and stimulate innovative solutions.

4. Spotlighting talent

There is a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We don’t know how people will fare in uncertain situations. Decision making exercises, red teams, simulations and business wargames can allow you to see how your team work together in conditions of uncertainty and can provide a platform allowing you to spotlight talent in your team. They can help you identify individuals who have the talent to succeed, and to observe them in interaction with their peers outside of their normal operating environment. If fed back appropriately, these learnings can be useful in developing the emotional intelligence of those involved.

5. Developing foresight

Having foresight means that leaders and managers are equipped to think ahead of the game and be prepared and adaptable enough to cope with emerging and complex scenarios. Simulations, by their very nature, can help to promote resilience at the individual and the team level, preparing people for a real situation that they may face in their workplace. Crucially they allow individuals to feel prepared for the situation they may face, allowing them to tackle the challenge with heightened confidence.

6. Encouraging teamwork and collaboration

Decision making exercises, red teams, simulations and business wargames encourage team working and collaboration. In the simulation as in the real world, co-operation and team work are important components of success. Such events provide a forum for building team relationships and highlights dependencies between groups. Simulations allow the stresses and strains between groups to be identified, explored and improved, providing greater assurance that they will work more effectively when the need comes.

7. Promoting resilience at the individual and the team level

Organisations exist as complex systems of teams and individuals and knowing how those teams might act in a certain situation is valuable data. Building resilience at the individual and team level promotes the resilience of the wider organisation. Individuals taking part in red teams, simulations, decision making exercises and business wargames all have an opportunity to develop their self–awareness and emotional intelligence, which can help to improve resilience and mindfulness. Thus such events can serve as effective individual development skills for leaders and managers, allowing them to develop skills and competencies that are useful not only in their current roles but that might also be portable to other roles and which will undoubtedly strengthen their overall portfolio.

8. Maximising return on L&D spending

Budgets are pressured. Bespoke decision making exercises, wargames and simulations maximise the return on learning and development spending. Participants in such events typically speak of the quality of the learning being generated as being far superior to any standard training course or event. In addition, the individuals and teams involved spend the entire time in the exercise thinking about their own organisation and the real challenges of their task, learning how to work with each other in the process. Participants leverage learning in a multi-disciplinary environment working alongside colleagues in a realistic way. Few other learning opportunities provide such interactive and workplace specific learning. It works. This is like 70-20-10 on acid.

Test your strategy with a facilitated business wargame and see your people step up and be counted.

Nick Skinner, Poppyfish People Development

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