#5 Games as training grounds for change

Games are powerful tools in training and preparing organisations for change. Corporate change without pre-practice and training is risky and could end up being very expensive. So why not prepare your team and organisation by using games as a training ground?

Far too many change projects have a bad start because the need for preparation is underestimated.

If you face playing a critical match in the football finals, a professional coach will focus on the preparation. He will select the team, refine the interplay and combinations on the training grounds, and reveal critical errors through test games against other teams.

To put it simply: He will do his utmost to ensure that the players have the best possible position for acting as a team when it really counts. Anything else would be unprofessional.

By comparison, how do you roll out a new strategy or initiate an important project in a modern organisation? How often do you select the team and fine-tune and rehearse before the implementation? It is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception that you start off with no or very limited preparation and training.

That is equivalent to waiting until the day of the big match to select the team and afterwards wonder why the interplay was lacking in finesse and why so many misunderstandings occurred between the players.

Exactly like practise fields, simulations and games offer a safe playground where the participants, without risk, can test different scenarios and make educational mistakes without facing any real world consequences.

Training the middle leaders for change

If we look at the change process in an organisation, middle managers are extremely cross-pressured. They need to handle everything that is new and at the same time manage the day-to-day operations, often with a team of members sceptical to change. 

The middle managers are quickly cross-pressured by the wishes of top management and the scepticism of the employees. At the same time, many managers are insecure about their own future role.

A targeted game-based training can be of great help in handling this difficult situation. By giving the manager a much needed crash course in central change theories and methods needed for the change a game-based tool can be helpful

Training for ongoing change process - an example from LEAN in Arla

Training change management can form a part of the regular leadership development (so-called ‘just in case’ training) in connection with a leadership academy. But it can also be initiated in connection with a concrete and immediate change (‘just in time’ training).

The dairy conglomerate Arla Foods, a major European dairy company, have for instance gained very positive results from using game-based training tools to support the rollout of LEAN on their largest sites.

At Arla we have multiple large and small change processes running all the time. One area is LEAN where you need to reach quality goals and other ways of working,” Pernille Græsdal Beck, senior manager, Arla Foods, says.

They need to engage the employees in the continuity of change. They need to train the employees to think ‘how can we do things differently?’

We use the leadership simulation Wallbreakers to work with changes in the company in an educational way and with great effect. The pace of change, and resistance to it, are difficult to handle, and the managers need to be prepared to the different aspects of resistance and change,” she says.

In Arla change initiatives must not be implemented too fast to avoid losing employees along the way. However, if you implement change too slowly they start losing trustworthiness and momentum.

Many more learning channels are activated by using a game than if the employees just sit down and passively receive information. In the game, managers play different roles and have a limited number of choices. How do you utilise the options you have in the best way? You get more engaged and you can relate,” Pernille Græsdal Beck says.

A platform for dialogue - an example from Danfoss

A game is not only about training specific situations. By framing processes in a specific way it becomes legitimate to voice concerns and share experiences in the circle of managers - a shared language that goes beyond the game it self.

Danfoss for instance, an industry leading engineering company that has used the change management game Wallbreakers for a number of years, puts emphasis on the shared language of change among the leaders as a valuable gain from the game.

The game works as a perfect frame for understanding the dynamics at play in change processes and of the importance of a management that cares for the human dimension. The balance between activating the competitive element and the serious dialogue and idea exchange that are built into the game are particularly efficient,” Torben Pedersen, former senior HR Consultant at Danfoss A/S, explains.

Training managers as front runners

Change management is about changing the management,” says a famous quote by Hartmut Mehdorn, former top manager for Deutsche Bahn.

Training for change is about preparing managers and leaders to actually take the change seriously.

The management circle in an organisation shapes the culture and defines its priorities. If you want significant changes, you need the managers to be front-runners for the new roles, culture, and behaviour in order to succeed. In this process, game-based tools can help attune expectations and create clarity in responsibilities, lines of decision-making, and structures.

In the startup phase, the management group needs to be attuned to the necessary management behaviours that support the changes. And in that case a game that simulates change processes is a very powerful tool.

The managers ask themselves: What should we hold on to, what should we leave behind, and what do we have to do differently? It is an incredibly important dialogue, beneficial to be had before any problems show their ugly face. Prevention is better than cure, and a game is efficient training ground for this dialogue.

Clarification of authority and degree of freedom are central needs: Who decides what from now on? And who must be involved in what and when?

Carlsberg has used the dialogue tool Ways of Working to support the international roll-out of their large-scale business standardisation program. The game tool helped attune expectations and create clarity with their governance model, authority, and lines of decision-making.