A MASTER FACILITATORS’ GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL SIMULATIONS

“I have been a facilitator for more than 20 years and I love the “ah-ha” moments when a participant connects his or her actions within the simulation to a work situation. My job is to help people achieve clarity and insight – about themselves and their work… This is a different way of learning, and, for me, it’s always revelatory.”

– Ron Christian

Serving as facilitator for an in-person simulation means playing both circus ringmaster and Socratic teacher. It’s my job to make every participant feel welcome, and to let them know they’re about to experience something special. However, unlike a circus, there are no spectators. Everyone who enters the simulation space will take part in a quest that can reshape the way they think about themselves and send them back to work with new insights about their strengths and the ways they can improve.

That happens when the facilitator spurs participants to reflect on the meaning of how they performed and what happened during the exercise. I don’t come with any answers. My job is to help the participants become conscious of their tendencies in a variety of situations. Once that happens, new possibilities for more productive behaviors open to them.

During: Stoking Enthusiasm, Guiding Learning

We advise our clients not to reveal details of the simulation to participants before they enter the room. An air of mystery feeds the participants’ excitement and prepares them (paradoxically, by not preparing them) to be receptive to something utterly new.

When participants see the staged environment, complete with music and lighting, they feel as if they’ve entered a movie, one in which they’ll play a starring role.

This is when a facilitator begins shaping the experience. In “The Journey Home” simulation, I’m in a star fleet academy commander’s uniform. I quickly begin ordering dozens or hundreds of participants to form six-member teams. Each person grabs a badge explaining her role: captain, navigator, or environmental officer. I introduce the exercise, explaining the objectives – and I try to do so with humor, as this helps assure participants that they’re in safe environment. They must feel that they won’t be embarrassed. And so, I have members of each team stand up (for instance, the navigators) as I explain their job and responsibilities, and I have the group applaud them. I might ask the navigators to close their eyes and point north, so the room can see them pointing in different directions. Applause and laughter in the first 10 minutes of the simulation lets participants know this is not normal corporate training; this will be fun!

Then, it’s up to the facilitator to keep the simulation moving, monitor the action and answer questions. I’m also the observer: ‘How will individuals respond to obstacles? Will they realize they can use not just the tools in front of them but other tools (or people not on their teams) to complete their mission? Which individuals will excel? Which ones will fall behind?’ These observations set the table for what comes after the simulation

After: Debriefing and Reflection

The debriefing sessions after each simulation segment are critical to the design of the experience. The facilitator gathers the participants outside the simulation environment to get them talking about the parallels between what they just experienced and their jobs.

The questions I use to elicit these insights are open-ended: ‘What do you think that experience was all about? What was real to you?’ in order to get participants to reflect on how they acted, on the decisions they made and how they behaved with their peers.

It’s common to hear participants realize that, “We had to make decisions with insufficient data,” or, “We were sitting two feet away from another team, but it didn’t occur to us to share resources so that we could both benefit.” This is how the simulation brings authentic business challenges to life and presents opportunities to learn from them.

I have been a facilitator for more than 20 years and I love the “ah-ha” moments when a participant connects his or her actions within the simulation to a work situation. My job is to help people achieve clarity and insight – about themselves and their work. During the exercise, I serve as a resource for each participant. In the debrief, I make sure each has an opportunity to explore his or her behaviors and find the deeper meaning in them. And all of this happens in the context of the client’s objectives.

This is a different way of learning, and, for me, it’s always revelatory.