If you saw a group of managers crouched on the floor playing with wooden blocks, you would probably think they had cracked under pressure. Closer scrutiny, however, might reveal they were playing The Achievement Game, a management training game in which two-person teams compete in building a column of blocks toward a preset goal. The exercise, repeated under different competitive environments, provides participants with insights on setting goals, risking failure, and peer-group influence.
Simulation games, played with boards, dice, cards, or computers, have become popular tools for training management and fostering better communication between managers and workers. There are now more than 1,000 training and development games on the market, ranging in cost from less than $10 to several thousand dollars.
"It's easier to analyze a problem in the abstract," says Burt Helgeson, associate consultant with Didactic Systems Inc. in Cranford, N.J., distributor of The Achievement Game, which sells for about $100. "People have trouble facing issues, and sometimes it's hard for them to come up with constructive conclusions on their own. With games, you simulate the problem and take back what you've learned."
There are almost as many games on the market as there are management themes. Managing Time, Assining Work, and Communications Problems and Opportunities are just a small sampling of the games offered by Didactic and others.
One of the most popular -- and ambitious -- games is Sony International Management Game, a rigorous, three-day course in strategic planning. Players become presidents of simulated manufacturing companies for five-year terms and compete for market share using plastic chips, risk and decision cards, worksheets, and a roulette wheel symbolizing the daily risks of the business world. The game, which is popular among Japan's strategic-minded businessmen, is sold in the United States by Sony Corp. of America, for about $850 a player.
Suzan Way, corporate personnel manager at John Fluke Manufacturing Co. in Everett, Wash., says her company sends its promising high-level managers through the course. "It tries to teach you how to run a company," she says, "and even if your company fails, you learn what not to do next time."
Most training games are not available in retail stores and must be purchased either through a distributor or direct from the manufacturer. For a list of game sources, contact the, American Society for Training and Development, 600 Maryland Ave. SW, Suite 305, Washington, DC 20024.