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As children, a significant part of learning comes through games.  Games provide a safe environment in which to experiment with complicated pieces of life.  As adults, we can learn the same way.  In a business context, games can be a very powerful learning tool to help people understand the organisation and experiment with different strategies without fear of bankruptcy.

There are a number of different types of games.  At one extreme are detailed simulations of a business.  Typically, these are spreadsheet based or use a system dynamics engine to map the interdependencies of various parts of the business through mathematical formulae.  They are usually very expensive to build and run.  However, they do have their place where it is important for people to have a detailed technical understanding of a business (or part of the business) 

On the other extreme are board games, much like the Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders that we played as children.  They are a simplification of the business but, well designed, they force the players to think about the salient business issues.

Why do these board games work?

First, they provide a safe learning environment.  People relax, get involved in the game and are learning before they know it.

Second, games appeal to a wide variety of learning styles.  The kinaesthetic nature of game playing involves those who like a “hands on” approach.  Games get people involved through their competitive element.  A well debriefed game session allows participants to understand the principles or the essence of a business issue.

Third and most importantly, the game prompts people to have conversations about the business.  In small groups, in a safe learning environment, people will talk to each other about what is happening in the game, and how that is like things that are happening in the business.  Conversations are the most powerful way of learning and of effecting change.  A well designed game provides the context for these conversations.

At PS2, we have successfully collaborated with a number of clients to help them build games to drive change through developing deeper understanding of the business.  It’s a lot of fun!