January 7, 2011
Experiential Learning Experts Adopt Foundation Business Simulation.
Anthony Burke and Pete Sayers, of UK-based Insight Consulting, found there was one weakness in the outdoor experiential learning courses they led to build teamwork.
“People sometimes wish to avoid the personal learning inherent in the experience,” Anthony said, “and they do that by saying, “but if I were at work, I wouldn’t behave that way.” By using Foundation Business Simulation we have removed the trap door, they cannot use that excuse because this is what they would do at work.”
Anthony and Pete have worked together delivering experiential learning for 15 years. For the last six, they have experimented with taking their consulting out of the woods and into the training room, where Foundation provides the environment for the evolution of their experiential learning techniques.
“There is no doubt of the power of experiential learning, no doubt at all,” Anthony said, “what we are doing is maintaining that impact: the working together in teams, exploring the impact we have as individuals on the team, the emotional response to difficulties, but we are building on that to apply the learning to managing change and making business decisions. We haven’t lost the assets of the outdoor experience, but we have built on them with additional themes through the complex, real-world task of running a business.”
Anthony and Pete met when Pete was Head of Training and Development at the University of Bradford. One of their first tasks was to arrange a major event to help integrate two merging institutions.
“We recognized the enormous anxiety the merger, and the event itself, triggered,” Anthony said. “We realized we couldn’t just focus on demonstrating the practical synergies between the two organizations without dealing with the psychological, emotional impact as well.”
Their unique approach still resonates with the lessons of that first project. Within the context of the business simulation, they put people into the uncomfortable, if common business experience of having to assimilate new people into an established team. Then they go further, orchestrating a merger of two former competitors.
Focusing on small groups, Pete and Anthony begin the simulation with three participant teams and three computer teams and play two rounds of Foundation. Before the third round, they announce one company is closing and its management team will be split between the two remaining companies.
“Just as the team feels it has developed an effective working relationship, everything changes,” Anthony said, “and individuals have to either join an unfamiliar team, or figure out how to welcome and work with strangers to the team. There are many layers for extracting learning in this experience, a multitude of opportunities.”
“And,” Pete said, “the people are right there to learn, not half way across a mountain!”
After Round Four, Pete and Anthony announce the two participant teams have been acquired by one owner. While each team has to continue to run its company effectively, the teams are no longer in competition but looking for mutual benefit.
“The rationale for this is to trigger the competitive intelligence officers to really look at the computer teams and work out just what they are doing,” Pete said. “This shifts the focus of the task and adds a new organizational dimension to the new team dynamics. Now they have to find a way of working with
the people in the next room, competitors have become collaborators, plus they become far more aware of the total environment, focusing on the computer teams and the entire marketplace.”
For many years Pete and Anthony developed orienteering exercises to provide complex environments that might replicate organizational problems. “The kind of outdoor experiential learning we were doing,” Anthony said, “could only achieve complexity, not strategy.”
“Experiential learning with a business simulation does not replace the outdoor experience,” Pete added, “but when you are working with people who make business decisions every day, the outdoor experience can only go so far. These particular problems are more realistic in terms of the complexity of the participants’ experience at work. Foundation presents a realistic scenario, it causes crises that produce genuine problems, so you have the practical issues plus the attendant emotional states to work with.”
Pete and Anthony do not present themselves as experts in the simulation, but facilitators of the process. “Traditionally in a university for example, the lecturer is the expert. More and more, however, lecturers are being asked to work on the edge of their expertise and that requires facilitating the learning rather than imparting the knowledge as an expert. The questions are more “I am curious about what would happen if…” and not “why did you make that mistake?”
“I wonder if we are closing a circle?” Anthony asks. “Early simulations were intellectually interesting but became predictable. Outdoor experiences have emotional power but not always the residual impact. With this model I feel we can round out the learning with the best of both. All over Britain public and private sector organizations both large and small are trying to deal with the same issue, however do we manage these changes? How do you cope in these constantly changing times? And how do we do more with less? I think we are providing an environment in which our clients can identify and understand their problems, diagnose needs and develop the necessary capabilities to improve organizational performance.”