In this clip, an Income/Outcome business simulation game helps savvy Gen Ys learn business finance. There are no hidden dynamics in our board-game simulation. Every action is visible, every decision can be tracked, and every effect has a demonstrable cause.

In a good simulation, every action is visible, every decision can be tracked and every effect has a demonstrable cause.

“The culture of a company is simply the ‘way individuals, managers and teams act’ on a daily basis aggregated on a macro level. And ‘trust’ should be the cornerstone of these actions,” writes Vineet Nayar, vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies in a series of articles for the Harvard Business Review. “Generation Y has grown up in an age of information overload,” Nayar adds. “They have learned to sift through multiple layers very quickly to cut through the fluff and get to the heart of the issue. Transparency is the only way to deal with this young talent pool. They live in a world of open communication and that is the only manner they trust.”

Trust and transparency in business simulation games

Nayar is on the money. His comments apply especially well to business simulation games. To see how this is so, let’s look at an example:

Say your Gen Y team members are engaged in a computer-based business strategy game. After weighing their choices, they decide to increase inventory. They are calculating that the cost of purchasing and warehousing more goods will be offset by higher customer satisfaction, repeat business, and new business resulting from word of mouth.

Instead, they start losing customers to the competition.

The road to “whatever”

The players can’t figure out what the connection is. Why would a customer be angry if they’re getting their stuff faster? The players kept all other factors the same, so it is not something obvious like sloppiness or mistakes in the warehouse. Goods are packaged and shipped in the same way, and there is capacity to increase volume without adding staff.

Nor is the quality of goods in question. It’s the same goods, just more of them on the shelf.

Participants wrack their brains trying to explain the result. Did they miss a key factor? Did they make a mistake they should avoid making in future? Something happened between the input and the output… but they can’t see what it is.

“Whatever,” they would say, annoyed. And mentally and emotionally check out of the simulation.

What’s in the black box? Trouble.

This is a “black box” business strategy game. In other words, you can’t see what’s inside – there is a formula built into the model that participants aren’t privy to. And as you might imagine, when participants realize this, they aren’t just not learning… they are ticked off. They feel misled into investing emotional energy into playing a game that is “rigged” or unrealistic enough that lessons in the game don’t apply in the real world.

A separate concern is that when transparency is lacking, participants can get wrapped up in trying to “game” the system. In other words, if they see that the simulation has a mechanical aspect, they will respond to it by adopting a mechanical approach in order to win, without paying attention to the associated lessons.

For the reasons above, there are no hidden dynamics in our board-game simulation. Every action is visible, every decision can be tracked, and every effect has a demonstrable cause.