Why simulations are a catalyst for learning and change

21 February 2022 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

More than 8,000 businesses globally are estimated to use simulations as part of their change and training efforts. Nathan Jenner, Senior Director at professional services firm BTS, outlines four reasons why simulations are gaining popularity in the change landscape.

1. Simulations accelerate learning 

Research on simulations highlights their utility as a learning aid for organisations because they allow managers to learn by doing in a safe environment. When used as part of a training and development program, simulations add variety and complement other more traditional methods of learning such as case studies and lectures.

Simulations tend to be stimulating and enjoyable, thus further enhancing learning, and can improve teamwork, particularly for intact teams within the same organisation.

Nathan Jenner, Senior Director at BTS

2. The behavioural change sticks back in real life 

The experiential learning environment within a simulation facilitates the transfer of learning back into real life. After simulation gameplay, a phase of observation and reflection occurs where participants discuss their experiences and share their different perspectives.

Then, participants compare and connect their experiences to prevailing theories in their real-life workplaces. During this reflection phase, participants can evaluate the significance of their simulated experiences, creating generalisations and defining strategies for effective and ineffective behaviour. These strategies can then be tested in the simulation and lead once again to new experiences, which support the development of better strategies to apply in real life.

3. They promote social learning and collaboration 

There is evidence that simulations offer a form of collaborative learning through teamwork. Since simulations provide a mistake-friendly learning environment, where there is no real consequence to failure, they facilitate team learning through trial and error and immediate feedback.

Well-constructed simulations allow multiple contexts and scenarios, facilitating team learning across “knowledge domains,” i.e. business functions or technical specialties.

4. Simulations are catalysts for organisational change 

Simulations have proven to be useful tools in planned organisational change efforts, especially during diagnosis and data gathering phases. They aid in developing an understanding of existing organisational structures and work processes.

For example, members of an organisation can work with designers to create simulations that represent the processes and structures of the real organisation. While going through the simulation, participants can explore and discuss the existing advantages and disadvantages of these structures.

This shared experience fosters real debate and discourse on ideas for potential change strategies, and these ideas can be applied back in the real world. Business simulations can also help people in organisations reconstruct their reality. Simulations can be designed to imitate organisational processes and change them in an experiential and playful way. Going through a simulation can spark creative problem solving in real-life, since the simulated environment allows participants to experience several different scenarios.

Participants can also experience playing different roles and various social situations, therefore gaining an understanding of different perceptions and characteristics of the organisation. In subsequent discussions, these alternative behaviors and perceptions can be shared amongst the participants, generating ideas for implementing real world change.

Simulations help organisations understand their real-life organisational processes and create space for organisations to experiment with potential reconfigurations that are a result of their change efforts. These are useful insights, especially during the early diagnostic phases of change.

So, why do leading organisations turn to simulations? They are powerful aids to learning both at an individual and an organisational level, and as a result, they form a powerful catalyst for individual and organisational change efforts.