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Five key insights executives learn from business simulations

Playing games on company time is becoming a serious business. So serious in fact, the corporate training market in the US is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.81 per cent in terms of revenue over the period 2014-2019, according to Research & Markets, the world's leading source for international market research reports and market data.

Corporate training is an integral part of a successful organisation's discretionary budget, from the Fortune 500 to a small business trying to train and retain the brightest minds. The scope of the market is widening with the adoption and implementation of business simulations to provide healthy competition as collaboration across all levels of personnel.

Business simulations give executives hands-on experience in topics such as business acumen, leadership development, strategy, and more. There is a great degree of commonality in what most participants learn from these very intense training courses and much of what is learned benefits leaders of any size company. The lessons are quite simple in theory, but the everyday process of people’s work tends to get in the way. It’s simply a matter of reminder and practice.

Here are the top five lessons executives learn from spending multiple days participating in a custom business simulation that any executive can benefit from:

Stop, think, and strategise

The daily workload is consumed by deadlines, requirements, and five jobs to do at once. The pace of work is faster than ever. Competition is ever-growing. Managers are driven to get work done fast. An unfortunate side effect of this is the ‘do something and take action’ habit managers fall into. During a custom business simulation programme, executives are forced to ‘stop, think, and strategise’.

At first, it’s an exceptionally uncomfortable exercise for participants. But after a little practice, they learn that taking a little time to act as a team has amazing benefits. Companies from startups to large enterprises could benefit greatly from simply taking time out to think and strategise about whatever topic they are working on at a given moment. The greatest rewards come from executives working as a team to develop a thoughtful long term strategy. The next time you find yourself running around, you might want to take a moment to ‘stop, think, and strategise’. You’ll realise it’s time well spent.

Any decision is most often better than no decision

My days of working with Steve Jobs taught me that any decision is better than no decision. Employees today are scared stiff of making bad decisions. No one wants to be called out for making a wrong choice. This is partly responsible for the decision-by-consensus organisation. When executives run through custom business simulations, they come face-to-face with the no-win scenario (did someone say 'Kobayashi Maru' of Star Trek fame?)

This is by design in order to help executives get past the discomfort of making ‘bad decisions’. Running through the exercises helps them understand and grow comfortable with working through and learning from non-optimal outcomes of decisions. The single biggest lesson that everyone can learn from this is: It’s better to make a bad decision and learn from it than it is to make a decision and learn nothing.

Collaboration pays huge dividends

Collaboration is becoming more challenging within both small and large enterprises. Metrics are used to measure whether the responsibilities piled on an executive are keeping pace with the demanding deadlines they are faced with. Unfortunately, those aren’t always in alignment.

As a result, most executives are focused on their silos. This is very rarely malicious, but more a product of the organisation and structures of reward. By running through business simulations, executives learn that taking a little time to check in with other silo leaders can create synergy that helps all parties involved. There are two tricks to making this work. First, you need to know who the leaders are and second, take the time to get to know them and reach out occasionally. This seems simple, but it takes effort, but the benefits can be enormous.

Solid foundation in business acumen creates a common language

Most people think that top leaders within the top companies are all MBAs in finance and business wizards. This is rarely the case. Most executives know their jobs better than anyone. They are often very good at managing a team and have successfully grown through the ranks by applying hard work and a can-do attitude. As a result, business acumen could always use a little sharpening. For example: Engineering, HR, and Marketing leaders have rarely been exposed to Corporate Finance, and Corporate Finance managers don’t know a lot about engineering, HR, or marketing. Creating a solid foundation in business acumen helps everyone speak the same language and understand what that language means to the entire business. This helps everyone.

Effective leadership is critical

The single biggest learning experience most executives retain from business simulations is the critical impact leadership has on an organisation’s performance. In most cases, this is surprising to executives because the day-to-day process of working makes it difficult to see the impact leadership has on financial outcomes. Running through a simulation enables executives to experience first-hand the impact effective leadership has on the profitability of a business.

Most executives go through leadership development and/or executive development. They are told the importance of leadership, but it traditionally stays within the theoretical zone. Most executives greatly appreciate the opportunity to practice and experience the positive impact. As a result, most executives have a sensational level of learning. Whether an organisation is big or small, effective leadership should always be stressed and practiced. If the top executives appreciate its importance, other organisations should as well.

Many managers have never experienced the eye opening experience of learning through a state-of-the-art business simulation, but this is quickly changing. This doesn’t mean that smaller companies can’t learn from others. All companies should stress taking the time to strategise, become comfortable with making tough decisions, make a special effort to collaborative, learn fundamental business acumen, and emphasise effective leadership. Taking to heart these five insights will pay dividends for almost any organisation.

William Hall is Vice President of Learning and Development at Simulation Studios (opens in new tab)