Design & Deployment: examples of facilitated Serious Games in Business & Management

Many Serious Games addressing soft skills in Business and Management (B&M) require facilitation from biber hapı domain experts and / or pedagogues. There are practically three main ways of deploying facilitated Serious Games by accompanying and guiding player’s learning experience before (briefing), during and after (debriefing) the game run session:

  1. fully Face-to-Face (F2F) workshop,
  2. fully online workshop,
  3. a blended solution (e.g. web session for the briefing, F2F or web for the run session, F2F for the debriefing).

There are cases where only one option makes sense, other ones where all options are possible. Then, according to the context of use delphi and to learning objectives, one option may be preferable to the other ones.

A good example is represented by EagleRacing (1) which has been successfully deployed in all of the three styles mentioned above. In EagleRacing, three fundamental dilemmas on collaboration at Team level are represented by three video episodes respectively: Episode 1 on Managing Diversity & Team Processes; Episode 2 on Team Decision Making under Pressure; and Episode 3 on Managing Communication & Trust-based Collaboration. Traditionally, EagleRacing was deployed in fully F2F workshops. However, soon it became clear that at least the start of the learning experience (including the briefing part), that has to be played individually, could have been fully delivered online (via email). Players are now invited to watch a video (episode 1), that can be reached by clicking on a link sent within the briefing email, online. Moreover, since a debriefing slot could follow each decision taken on the presented dilemmas there were more possibilities on how to deploy it to the participants. Usually, the facilitator intervenes just after the first collection (via emails) of players feedbacks on the first dilemma for forming the groups of players. The selection of team members is done in order to maximise diversity and possibility of conflicts, that is, in order to challenge the collaboration dynamics within the groups. Then, the second game round session addressing the second dilemma has to be run in groups. Here learning objectives and context of use may clearly influence the choice of the delivery mode and of the interaction from users. Either, the second episode is displayed in the framework of a F2F session, where also the related debriefing takes place, or, as is increasingly happening, the second game session can be fully run online along with its debriefing part. There is clearly a strategic reason that can drive such a choice: since the main goal of EagleRacing is to expose players to the challenges of collaborating in diverse teams, it could be interesting to add also the dimension of remote distribution of teams and of their members. Moreover, and even more interestingly, there is the possibility to actually experiment with the challenges introduced by the use of collaborative technologies for supporting and exchanging ideas, for reaching the due consensus and for justifying the decisions made. Despite the progress in online collaborative technologies, it is not always trivial to put in practice such kind of cooperative work. Of course, it is also matter of digital media literacy. Blogs, wikis and even personal web/video conferencing systems (2) may be used by players to come to group-based decisions as well as by facilitators to intervene in running discussions or just to debrief. The third and last phase of the game has been usually run in a F2F workshop session in all parts (episodes and debriefing) since in this case consensus has to be reached among groups, scaling up from team dynamics to organisation-like / department ones. Again, the context of use in this case may suggest to run the whole session fully online for practical reasons. For example, it may happen that even more than 800 people can participate in the EagleRacing learning experience. Even finding a meeting place, is a logistic challenge, but could also be an organisational one if the players are worldwide distributed and time lags represent actual barriers. It is true that such big (corporate) events still take place, but also the current critical economical situation worldwide pushes to save money (and time) whenever possible. That’s why, along with the increasing effectiveness of collaborative and web conferencing tools, the fully online deployments of EagleRacing are becoming more and more popular (3).

Another practical advantage of online deployment, is given by the fact that digitally exchanged data are recorded and can be processed for debriefing purposes. This happens, for instance, in WhatADay that presents the EagleRacing pattern in three parallel and intertwined contexts and that addresses leadership competences in complex managerial crisis situations with the untold goals of reducing conflicts and building a cooperative and collaborative environment within the team and with the customers and partners. Noticeably, the fact that the actual interaction of players with the game happens fully online doesn’t prevent the participants from gathering together in the same venue in order to attend the debriefing session in a F2F workshop with the facilitators. Moreover, all the data collected is processed in real time and returned back to facilitators and participants in order to identify useful insights and stimulate the debriefing session. For instance, players may be asked for feedback not only on their expectations before the game run session, and after it, but also to provide a level of confidence about the latter and the first feedback. Usually mismatches in these kinds of feedback are useful to highlight what misconceptions may alter the ability of judging correctly challenging situations. Clearly, the possibility of managing and recording the data in real time is helpful for deriving lessons learnt and driving better future deployments of the game. It is also a key asset of online technology.

However, there are examples in Higher Education contexts of use where online deployment could be complicated and likely as not as effective as in the case of F2F workshops. For instance Serious Games used for trainees’ assessment. If the assessment that is looked for is a 360° one, then, beyond the results of the game (as materialized by the score), what is actually needed is the assessment of trainee’s behaviour in different environments and situations that are linked to the development of the game. For instance, if one wants to see how the trainee behaves within the team she belongs to, and more specifically, how she manages her relations with the other team members independently from the position that she holds, it seems –for the moment at least – quite difficult to imagine that such assessment could be performed fully online. This is the typical case when among other parameters that will have to be taken into account, there will be the body language and the attitude (e.g. how the trainee looks at others, the tone of her voice when she speaks, how often she interrupts other team members when they speak, how she leads the team any time she is given the position of e.g. a general director, how she faces totally unexpected situations etc.). In other words, in a global business environment that is characterized by the necessity of the three C’s (criticism, connectivity, complexity) and more specifically by the necessity to take human aspects into account, it seems doubtful that in the near future, the assessment of a trainee can be completely automated and hence processed online. Even in the EagleRacing case mentioned above, if there are objectives, other than the usual ones associated to the game (and this could be the case due to the varied richness of the subjects touched by the gameplay) to be considered in the deployment, it is apparent that mediating all the interactions among the players via online technologies may not be enough. If among the learning objectives set before the game run there is also a 360° assessment that includes behavioural dynamics and analysis of body language and attitude, a F2F workshop is therefore necessary.

For reference / further readings:

  1. Angehrn, Albert A. and Maxwell, Katrina (2009) “EagleRacing: Addressing Corporate Collaboration Challenges Through an Online Simulation Game”; Innovate, Journal of Online Education, Vol. 5, Issue 6, Aug/Sept 2009.
  2. Cisco WebEx http://www.webex.com/
  3. “Tackling business problems with online games” by Mark Tutton, published under the Executive Education section of CNN.com at http://edition.cnn.com/2009/BUSINESS/06/05/business.simulations/index.html on 5th June 2009

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