Business Simulation Use

Here I explore how business simulations are used in terms of audiences (sponsor, trainer and participant), delivery mode (classroom, online etc) and manner of use.






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Broadly business simulation are used by:
- students on academic programmes to build business knowledge
- adult business people on company training courses to improve their ability to make wise decisions and be successful.

For multiple reasons this site explores business simulation use for company training and where purpose is to make the business people better at their job. Illustrated below the Dean of Games is at the top of the food chain and if students do not learn it is their fault but on company training courses the trainer is at the bottom of the food chain and if learning is not relevant to each, different business person this is the fault of the trainer and the simulation.

Download a paper describing differences between university and training simulations.

Adult business learning vs Academic Education


Central to the provision of any product or service is who is involved in its acquisition and use - here these are the sponsors (who authorise use and acquisition), trainers and participants - each of these have different needs and concerns.

Business Simulation Audiences and their concerns.

Click on diagram to jump to more information

Learn more about business needs Learn more about business sucess Learn more about cosy and duration needs Learn moer about learning essentials Learn more about the expertise need by tutors Learn more about tutoring skills Learn more about the concerns and fears that a tutor might have Learn more about a tutors goals Learn more about the prrior learning requirement. Learn more about participants' goals Learn more about participants' knowledge, experienc and viewpoint diversity Learn more about participant expectations


These are the people who decide to use a simulation and authorise it's use and the leaders who decide who staff will participate in the simulation and which courses will incorporate a simulation.

Business Needs are the starting point for any learning initiative and from these a determination of learning needs (purpose and method) are the next step.

Learn more about Learning Purpose

Business Success: In today’s complex and ever changing world, knowing facts is not enough. Past solutions do not work. What is necessary is the wisdom to make the best decisions - the decisions that lead to success. Business simulations are, perhaps, the best way to hone and develop experiences and wisdom.

Cost and Duration: There is a continuing drive to minimise course durations and training costs but minimising cost and duration is not the same as ensuring efficient learning. Learning is only efficient if learning is effective and this requires the right duration (neither too long or too short).

Learn how meta-composition ensures effective and efficient learning

Learning Essentials: Learning is more than acquiring factual knowledge and is impacted by what and how competencies are developed – the learning process and method. Unfortunately, often people are conditioned by school and university and do not understand that learning to do something well is a different process from learning how to pass an exam and requires different methods.

Learn more about learning!!!


These are the people who will be using the simulation with participants to deliver learning.

Business Expertise: Tutoring a business simulation involves coaching and challenging the participants and this requires the tutor having relevant business knowledge, expertise and experience and this is an ideal role for someone who has had line management experience at a reasonably high level especially if this has been in your company or industry.

Tutoring Skills: Tutoring a business simulation requires facilitation skills and managing the learning process. It is not the same as instruction or academic teaching. (As illustrated in the cartoon above.)

Concerns and Fears: Using another’s training materials and technology raises concerns and until the trainer is comfortable with the simulation he or she may be fearful! Building in a Tutor Support System is an excellent way to overcome these problems.

Learn more about Tutor Support

Training Success: Ultimately, the trainer is measured on and rewarded for successful learning and engagement. Happily, a business system provides for this. For example, fourteen runs of one simulation involving 320 senior managers achieved a rating of 5.8 out of 7 for learning and 6.0 out of 7 for fun! And the trainer (a senior manager) felt that the simulation delivered all that was expected and more.


These are the business people who learn from the simulation. In my experience, it is best for the group to be divided into several teams of four or five participants.

Prior Learning: Business simulations build on prior knowledge and hone understanding. So the simulation must connect with existing learning and build on it. If there is a disconnect then participants are likely to be overwhelmed and disaffected.

Diversity: Unlike university students where their business knowledge overlaps and their business experience may be minimal, business people are likely to have diversified knowledge and experience. This improves learning through shared learning and diverse viewpoints. When devising teams, I have found that it is best for each to have a mix of business (functional) experience.

Expectations: Generally the participants look forward to the business simulation, as it will enable them to demonstrate their prowess, competitively! But this is a two edged sword - if the simulation is too complex or not relevant then they will become disengaged.

Personal Success: The business people who participate in a business simulation are concerned with it making them more successful and so perceived relevance is vital.


Simulations can be used on-line or in the classroom; by individuals or by small teams of business people where the process is either unmanaged or managed by a tutor.

My experience and belief is that use of the simulation by several small groups of participant in the classroom where the process is managed by a tutor provides, by far, the most effective, efficient and consistent learning for business people. Why is this my view?

Why tutored rather than untutored
Adult learners will have diverse knowledge and experience this, and their business situation leads to a spread of learning needs and opportunities. When the simulation is tutored, the tutor can assess learning and from this proactively challenge and coach - matching the learning delivered by the simulation to participant needs and capabilities. Consequentially learning is driven forward and ensured. One of my clients found that having a tutor manage
learning reduced simulation duration to a third. Additionally, without a tutor, there is a risk that the struggle will overwhelm participants and they will become disaffected and give up. Tutoring a simulation ensures learning effectiveness, efficiency and consistency.

Learn more about how the simulation can support the tutor.

Why teams rather than individuals
Running a business requires a range of knowledge, experience and viewpoints. Also, to learn, one must think deeply about the decisions made and their impact. An individual is unlikely to have a wide enough range of knowledge, experience and viewpoints but a team of participants is likely to have the diverse backgrounds necessary. When working in a team, participants must propose and argue the actions that they feel are needed and this discussion ensures deep cognitive processing. Additionally, working in a team whose members have a range of business and functional knowledge and experience means that participants learn from each other.

Why classroom rather than online
I feel that for business simulations people working face-to-face in small teams in a classroom is far superior to people working in remotely spread teams as, not only is team working better but a tutor can manage learning properly

There are technical, practical and behavioural reasons for this.

Manner of Use

The icon below shows eleven ways where business simulations can be used by business people for company training in the classroom and for other, more exotic uses. Clicking in the relevant part of the icon will take you to discussions of the manner of use in terms of content, process and engagement design.

Summary of ways that you might use business simulations with adult business peopls.

Use at the end of a course to tie everyting together and end on a highlight. Use through out the course. Use after a content session to reinforce and test understanding Use as a workshop. Use at the start of a course to test understanding and set the scene. Use between two parts of a course. Use to provide a business oriented and exciting activity at a business conference Use as part of a graduate recruiting workshop. Use to assess future high potential staff. Use to promote the business to existing and prospective customers. Use by staff in their 'spare-time'.

Course Finale

Here the simulation is used at the very end of a course to review, reinforce, test and integrate the learning and end the course on a highlight! Besides this, revisiting topics allows one to evaluate teaching!

Content Design
The content needs to relate to (most) of the previous theory sessions.

Process Design
This simulation's duration is generally half a day or one day. For half-day simulations, the simulation usually involved participants using the simulation software themselves with no interactions between the teams (Direct Use Simulation). For one day simulations, the simulation usually involved participants interacting and competing with each other (Tutor Mediated Simulation). On residential courses, I usually brief the simulation just before or after dinner on the penultimate day. Participants then work (often late) becoming familiar and preparing their first decision. This decisions is then processed by the tutor before breakfast with the rest of the periods simulated in the morning. The teams then prepare a presentation for the review session over lunch with the reviewed directly after lunch (allowing the participants to escape home mid-afternoon.

Engagement Design
Besides acting to review, reinforce, test and integrate course knowledge the simulations active and competitive nature usually means that the course ends on a highlight

Course Theme

Here the simulation is used throughout the course to embed and test the prior learning and introduce later sessions.

Diagram showing how a simulation used as a course theme likns to prior and subsequent sessions

Content Design
The simulation needs to relate to the preceding theory session and, perhaps, introduce the next theory session. This is achieved by the temporal-topical design of the business simulation.

Process Design
These simulations need to be short (two to three hours) and, ideally, can be used after lunch or after dinner.

Engagement Design
Providing breaks between formal theory sessions where learners work practically and actively is engaging.

Course Starter

Here the simulation is used right at the start of a course to tests prior knowledge and introduces the theory sessions. For example a finance tutor was tasked with running an "Advanced Financial Appreciation for Non-Financial Manages" course - a course that would attract three types of participants - those who already had reasonable basic financial knowledge, those who and attended a basic financial appreciation course but forgotten what was learnt and those who felt that they knew more than the actually did. Here the simulation identified who and how much help was required and who could be used as a resource!

Content Design
The simulation builds on prior knowledge and provides an introduction to the course. As prior knowledge is likely to be diverse the simulation helps bring learners "up to speed".
Introduction gets learners thinking about the topics and issues that will be explored during the course.

Process Design
Ideally the simulation should be short (less than half a day)

Engagement Design
Besides impacting cognition, the simulation impacts engagement and learner behaviour. Having participated in a simulation learners are likely to actively contribute to later sessions.

Reinforce Topic

Here the simulation is used to reinforce a topic and allow participants to embed and test theory and explore practicalities.

Business Simulation used to reinforce a topic.

Content Design
The simulation'
s content needs to be closely aligned with the preceding theory session.

Process Design
Ideally, simulation will be short and occur immediately after the theory session and, ideally, can be positioned in the after lunch or after dinner periods.

Engagement Design
The simulation provides a change of pace
moving from passive knowledge acquisition to active, practical, student-centred knowledge application.


Here the simulation is used as a stand alone activity - typically a one day workshop where prior knowledge is refreshed and explored by the business simulation. A possible additional outcome is that the simulation can be used to identify future learning needs.

Content Design
The content
explored by the simulation must be relevant to the participants and build on and refresh prior knowledge..

Process Design
The diagram below

Engagement Design
The diagram below

As a "Break"

Here the simulation is used between two parts of a course. For example the first part of a course might focus on soft skills (touchy feely stuff) before moving on the a second stage that focuses on hard skills (finance, marketing, operations).

Content Design
The diagram shows how the simulation reviews, reinforces, tests and integrates
the earlier part of the course and introduces the next part of the course.

How a business simulation provides a break between two parts of a course

Process Design
The simulation provides a clear break between two parts of a course.

Engagement Design
The diagram below

Conference "Game"

Here the simulation is used as part of a conference as an engaging, business focused, team building activity.

Content Design

Process Design
The diagram below

Engagement Design
A business simulation provides a very welcome break between sessions where line managers explained how remarkably successful they were exceeding goals with insufficient resources. Additionally, a business oriented activity is seen as more relevant than other conference activities (such as fire walking or crossing a crocodile infested swamp using planks and string).

Graduate Recruiting

Here the simulation is used by a company as part of a business appreciation workshop to help final year university students understand business, build a relationship between them and the company and help the company assess the students' capabilities.

Content Design
the students may not have business expertise and knowledge the simulation needs to be relatively simple but still involve running a complete company

Process Design
Because of the lack of business knowledge and experience it helps if each team has their own mentor to coach and help. Additionally, this mentor is able to observe and assess the students.

Engagement Design
The diagram below

Assessment/Development Centre

Here the simulation is used at part of an assessment/development centre to assess competencies. Regularly since the late 1970s I have been involved with business simulation use on assessment centres.

Content Design
The simulation content needs to be mapped to the competencies required.

Process Design
When assessing high potential managers, these are observed running the simulated business by senior (C-level) executives who observe how the participants are running the simulated business and their thought processes. Thus. as s providing raw results to the people being assessed, pre-digested data should be provided to the assessors to highlight strengths and weaknesses and help them understand the issues that should be discussed.

Engagement Design
Assessment Centres are very stressful, however, as I have seen regularly, the competitive active nature of a business simulation reduces stress as illustrated on one occasion when, during the simulation, there as a coffee break. Instead of going on the coffee break a team continued working and when questioned about this a participant stated "coffee breaks are for wimps!".

Promotional Contest

Here the simulation is sponsored by a company as a promotion for it current and prospective customers.

Content Design
The simulation's content depends on the customers and prospect's targeted. For example, my TEAMSKILL simulation was developed for a promotional contest for manufacturing management, my Buyplay simulation was developed for a promotional contest for purchasing management, my TemeWork simulation developed for a promotional contest for engineering management and each replicated the issues and situation facing these participants. In contrast, my Challenge Series of simulations were developed for a promotional contest for all types of management and had more general issues.,

Process Design
A promotional contest typically consists of two stages - an elimination round run on an on-line basis and a final where the best compete directly face-to-face. During the elimination round participants will progress the simulation period-by-period typically making a set of decisions once a week for a couple of months. In contrast, the final is run in a single session over a day or so. This results in a need for two simulations - a complex simulation for the elimination round and a less complex simulation for the final.

Engagement Design
There are several audiences that need to be engaged - prospective and current contestants, their co-workers & leaders, the press and possibly business & political leadership. For example the Benson & Hedges Management Challenge obtained some 11,000 column centimetres of press editorial coverage, had contestants entering year-after-year with winning and runners-up displaying plaques and government ministers and ambassadors attending the finals.

Spare-Time Learning/In-house Contest

Here participants work outside normal working hours running the business simulation and, typically, submitting a decision once a week.

Content Design
The diagram below shows how the simulation tests
prior knowledge and introduces the theory sessions.

Process Design
The core process design issue is ensuring that the learning is managed by a tutor. This requires the simulation to be a tutor-mediated simulation where decisions are entered by the tutor and for a tutor to be available to answer questions, challenge a coach.

Engagement Design
Persuading participants to use "spare-time" to work on the simulation can be prize, recognition, during simulation feedback. Engagement is increased by making the simulation one where participating teams compete directly against each other.

© 2015 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 22/07/15
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