The pressure on individual leaders to keep their priorities balanced in a stressful daily work life is a constant challenge but in times of crisis, leaders face additional pressures to address competing demands, set priorities, manage relationships, and make decisions in face of stressful time constraints. They often have to work through confusing, difficult and even chaotic circumstances in order to deliver a coordinated course of action among the different stakeholders. Hence, effective leadership during crisis draws upon a variety of competences such as allocation of time and attention according to the urgency of the situation, making good decisions, as well as managing and motivating the different people involved.

WhatADay (AlphaLabs/Wizerize 2011) a self-contained intensive online learning experience addressing crisis readiness and leadership behaviour (!what-a-day/cejc). It involves a complex three-fold crisis situation which the player or players have to manage within a timeframe of 25 -35 minutes.

A WhatADay workshop was held on February 12, 2014 in Rome (Italy) as part of an Executive Development Programme with a group of high rising potentials in a major technology organization in Italy. The workshop brought together 20 managers from different backgrounds and divisions throughout the global company.

Objectives of Workshop

The purpose of the WAD workshop is to assist individuals and organizations to better understand opportunities of developing time and attention management, decision-making and collaboration competences under time pressure, using immersive game technologies such as simulations to improve performance both in individuals and in teams.


WhatADay is a simulation game that is usually played individually. However, an alternative scenario, involving game play in teams, was deployed in this workshop.

Prior to the actual face to face workshop in Rome, participants individually played the WhatADay simulation on their own. On the day of the workshop, participants were assigned to groups of 2-3 players and asked to replay the simulation as a team. Groups were created by the facilitator to reflect as much diversity as possible, including differences in nationality, division and region. Once the groups were assigned, the teams were allowed 10 minutes to exchange experiences from individual play and to decide on a plan before playing the simulation. Teams then played the game for an uninterrupted 25 minutes.

Following game play, the group reconvened for a facilitator-led debriefing of both individual and team results. Professor Albert Angehrn, INSEAD guided the group through their team results as well as learning points, tying the simulation experience to leadership behaviors and practices in their own organizaiton.

The overall process flow

The complete flow of the WhatADay workshop took place over 5 weeks.

Step 1- Invitation: A list of participants was submitted to the simulation administrator and email invitations were sent out including directions and link to the WhatADay game.

Step 2- Online game experience (individually): Participants were given 2 weeks within which to complete the WhatADay game online. The game required about 10 minutes of introduction to the game followed by 25 minutes of undisturbed playing time.

Step 3- Situated experience (in teams): 2 weeks later, the group met for a one day workshop (in Rome) where they were given an introduction, divided into teams of 2-3 people and then asked to replay the WhatADay game in their assigned groups. Teams were given 5 minutes of pre-game discussion to develop a strategy and/or exchange knowledge followed by 10 minutes of game introduction, and 25 minutes of undisturbed playing time.

Step 4: Feedback session: The group reconvened and the facilitator debriefed the group on individual and team results for the WhatADay simuation as well as addressed key learning points related to decision-making under time pressure.

Workshop Feedback

At the end of the workshop, participants were asked individually for feedback to the game and overall workshop. All of the participants really liked the WhatADay simulation and workshop as a learning tool – for most of them, it was the first time using a game-based simulation to learn. They found it engaging, realistic, frsutrating and meaningful – i.e. that it dealt with challenges they face in the workplace, addressed relevant leadership behaviors, and was an immersive experience.

Key benefits

  1. Knowledge exchange and sharing : Learning from one another  and exchanging experiences (from individual game play)
  2. Opportunity to developing common strategy, not only pathways but resonsibilities and coordination roles and rules (coordination challenge)
  3. Opportunity to work with people they have not worked with (diversity challenge)
  4. Alignment : Most of the players were in alignment and agreement with their partners on how to approach and play the game. One team which included 2 women and 1 man, expressed differences in approach and strategy, but were able to resolve the differences during the game process.
  5. Practicing and trying new behaviorsthey would not necessarily have the chance to in real work setting. On female participant, a engineer, remarked that she consciously decided to use the game space as an opportunity to push boundaries and experiment with behaviours she would otherwise be less comfortable with expressing in real life – she wanted to be more directive and aggressive.
  6. All of them liked the opportunity for replay– this allowed them to apply learning from previous experience and to see its effect. For them it was gratifying and tempered the frustration from the first individual game play.

A number of criticisms  and recommendatios for improvement were also identified :

  1. Too anglo-saxon : Several comments that the characters were too open and transparent, and that in Latin cultures, influence and exécution would be more network-oriented and informal.
  2. Some asked for more detailed profiles of the key players in order to visualize informal relationships between characters (again referring to Point 1 of Latin culture) – who is connected to who and who best to contact.
  3. Some even asked for more distractions to increase the level of challenge. More telephone interruptions, etc
  4. Another recommended a distributed game playchallenge – ie working in teams but in a distributed setting. This will increase challenge and bring in the issue of distributed collaboration.

Lessons Learned

All in all, the group saw the game as a highly engaging and challenging collaborative experience. For many of them who had little or no exposure to business simulation games, the WhatADay workshop provided a stimulating space for them to work together to problem-solve not only drawing from their prior experience of the game (during individual game play) but also how to work together with other people to consolidate and leverage one another’s prior experience and to work together in a coordinated way as a team. In terms of issues to take into consideration in future deployment of the WAD simulation include (1) Experiment with deployment only in teams without individual gameplay before to enhance the challenge of coordination and collaboration, (2) Introduction of more complexity in terms of building in informal networks to get things done (3) Opportunities for replay to demonstrate learning.

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