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What Really Happens in a Business Simulation Experience?


Over the years we’ve had many curious people ask us, so what exactly happens in a business simulation experience? The short answer – a lot of energy, a lot of fun and a lot of learning.

A business simulation is a learning cycle—a cycle can repeat once or many times. Each cycle has six steps—and each step is critical to maximizing a participant’s insights and learning.

Graphic depicting a business simulation learning experience



  • Introduction and Context sets the stage. The backdrop of the simulation, the business context and situation, pulls a participant in and engages them in the experience. The more credible the context—it can be very simple as long as the underlying tradeoffs and tensions are recognizable—the more easily a participant will see the parallels to their experiences back on the job.


  • Group Engagement challenges the participant to share their perspectives and question their assumptions in a practice environment. The dialogue among a group (to assess a situation, evaluate decisions and build agreement about a path of action) opens participants to the possibility of a different approach. There are hundreds of individual business simulations, but they don’t have the learning impact of a group experience.


  • Decision Making in the simulation mirrors the real world business environment as participants work in teams to assess complex information, evaluate risk, forecast performance and make operating decisions that guide their business. The team’s results are the first step in the cause/effect cycle that underlies learning at any age.


  • Dynamic Interactions are roleplays and presentation exercises that challenge participants to engage with another participant or a facilitator to communicate a decision. In real life, decisions are rarely made by clicking a box on a form or screen—they are made when they are effectively explained to customers or teams or partners.


  • Results and Learning Discussions offer breakthrough insights for participants in a simulation. When the results are not what you expect to see, you are actively engaged in asking “why?” The cause (your decisions) and effect (your results) is a dynamic you created. Learning discussions enable participants to compare their insights with others on their team and on other teams.


  • Reflection and Feedback: Ultimately the learning from a business simulation happens when participants personalize their insights, which can happen in two ways. You can reflect on your experience and identify new approaches to try in the next cycle and you can receive feedback and observations from your peers. Reflection and feedback activities enable participants to ensure application of new ideas back on the job.


Adults learn by doing, and in a business simulation, every activity enables learning in action.


 See an example


Amanda Young Hickman is co-founder of Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.