At the Mikkeli Campus of Aalto University in Finland, students in the final phase of coursework for their BScBA degree participated in CESIM Global Challenge during the spring capstone course (all will go on exchange the upcoming autumn). This course combines finance and strategy decisions with close examination of aspects of the 'human dimensions' of students' future workplaces; a combination that has been central to each iteration since its first use in 2015. At all times participants are working, in parallel, on two questions: “What are our options for achieving the best possible return to shareholders?” and “How do we establish - and maintain - effective group dynamics within our team?”
In many contexts, the content and activity of a business simulation focus attention on decisions about factors occurring outside the group, specifically decision making about finance and strategy in a well-formed hypothetical environment. This may focus attention away from the dynamics of personal interactions within the group.
However, decisions (both business and political) made by managers working in groups are known to be heavily influenced by factors existing within the collective nature of the group making them. This suggests that team members with a basic knowledge about working well together will benefit from paying attention to the demanding finance and strategy decision-making tasks while also addressing the personal internal factors influencing their own and others' behaviours (and decisions).
With this in mind, capstone participants in Mikkeli are introduced to group dynamics concepts including Bion's 'basic assumptions' (Armstrong 2005), 'Groupthink' (Janus) and the 'Abilene Paradox' (Harvey 1988) to help them construct rules for team/individual behaviour and internal communication. Applying the concept of Team Role Preferences (Belbin) supports awareness of how personal modes of operation affect team decisions and results.
While the CSR and HR functions in CESIM Global Challenge require teams to consider such issues in the hypothetical perspective of the simulation, they do not - of themselves - cause groups to recognise the group dynamics that shape their own actions and behaviours.
Of course, this focus on interpersonal communication is not a late addition to the BScBA curriculum - it has been a continuing thread throughout the course of study. It is, however, noteworthy in the business simulation context because it causes participants to regularly consider the dual importance of 'hard' data factors and 'soft' skills components in being effective decision-makers and managers.
In the Mikkeli capstone in 2018 there were 18 teams (each with 4 or 5 members) in three Universes. Of these, all teams achieved above the 50% percentile of all teams completing the CESIM Global Challenge and 17 teams achieved above the 70% percentile.
One assessment task required a personal reflection on the experience and these comments from three members of the same team typify many other responses:
- "... my team did not have a finance expert, I didn't know my team members that well and the [simulation] seemed to be extremely complicated. Sounds like a recipe for disaster and failure, but how wrong I was. Even though the task at hand seemed more complicated than [the] Gordian knot, the answer was simpler than I expected... It was good old fashioned teamwork."
- "... after the final decision-making round, one team member said that their teamwork had been as intense and intimate as a physical team activity in the Finnish army – in the best possible way."
- "Our competitive advantage compared to the other teams was our intense work in the same space daily. The fact we always made decisions on consensus and worked physically together rather than splitting parts and working individually, enabled our work to be coherent and carefully considered."
This team, of five members from three countries ranging in age from 22 to 50, achieved above the 80% percentile, without a specialist in finance or deep knowledge of strategy. Combining team-based attention to hard and soft skills worked well for them; and reflective commentary received from many of the other 77 participants has indicated similar experiences. The 2019 Capstone course will be awaited with interest.
- Armstrong, D. 2005, Making Absences Present: the Contributions of W R Bion to Understanding Unconscious Social Phenomena, Robert M. Young Online Archive, viewed 15/04/2018 2018, <http://human-nature.com/group/chap3.html>.
- Belbin, M., Team Role Preferences, Belbin Associates, viewed 10/05/2018 2018.
- Harvey, J., B. 1988, 'The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement', Organizational Dynamics, vol. Summer 1988,, pp. pp. 17–43.
- Janus, I., Groupthink, 2018, <http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm>.