Developing soft skills by becoming a ComEx member? The aim of the Master in Management programme’s “Final Simulation”
Published on 27 October 2020 by NEOMA
- Master in Management
NEOMA has introduced an immersive teaching method entitled “Final Simulation” with the aim of assessing the soft skills developed by Master in Management students. In small groups, the students are given the responsibility of running a company that is undergoing a slowdown and as Co-Directors asked to make decisions. Precision: it is not the results of their company that are assessed, but a student’s behaviour and the human qualities they display. Focus on a unique experience.
The Final Simulation is based on GeoSim, a computerised business game developed by NEOMA and lasting 6 and a half days. The simulation is set in an independent universe featuring 6 companies competing in the small household appliances market and supplying their products to distribution companies. They operate (production, marketing) in two fictitious countries, Oceania and Eurasia, with very contrasting characteristics.
The students, in groups of 5 or 6, are in charge of the strategic and operational management of a company, with a scope of 10 decision-making sequences. Each team member is assigned responsibility for one of the company’s principle operations: production, sales, accounting & management control, finance, market research and forecasting, human resources and, last but not least, senior management.
To add greater realism to the task, the students have been given free rein to re-launch the company. This all takes place in a highly competitive context, since they find themselves up against other groups pursuing the same objective and under pressure from increasing imports. The teachers running the simulation play the role of the Board of Directors, bankers and labour inspectors. A number of jurists make up the jury of the Companies Court, called upon in cases of business failure, as they hold a series of hearings half-way through the seminar.
Students are divided into groups that include a mixture of Master in Management speciality subjects. As such, the different team members do not necessarily know one another. The organisation is designed to ensure that genuine teamwork takes place: each team member manages their own role and only has access to the relevant data of their position; only the sales department has the details concerning sales, whilst remaining unaware of the evolution of production costs. The Co-directors must therefore cooperate completely throughout the game and place their trust in each other.
A simulation to challenge soft skills
The simulation exercise is, in reality, simply a pretext for the students to demonstrate their personal qualities and how they work within a group. team. They are not assessed on the company’s commercial or financial performance, but rather on their individual and collective behaviour throughout the simulation. Does a student make constructive comments to their team mates, or on the contrary, are they critical without offering any alternatives? Do they share their information or are they unconcerned about the level of information others have? Do they take responsibility and contribute to solving the problem, or do they pretend to ignore it?
“This final simulation is a test, in the sense of challenging someone and testing their abilities,” explains François Mangin, resource coordinator and professor. “The exercise is designed to develop social and relational processes. It is up to each team to find a way to solve the problems they are facing, and the role of Senior Management is crucial.” Each evening the team is required to spend time analysing how they operate. “As members of their Board of Directors, the professors provide them with support on the problem-solving process, but it is up to the students to identify the problems and find the solutions,” he says.
An assessment based on personal qualities
Assessment is continuous and totally individual. It is based on observation, reports and presentations to the Boards of Directors, interaction with facilitators during the simulation and a final individual report. It focuses on two main aspects:
- the quality of each member’s contribution to the company’s results and the team’s performance;
- analytical skills, the ability to step back at the end of the simulation and analyse what happened during the seminar and to write a precise and detailed report on the team’s dynamics and contributions of its members.
“A company’s performance may have been poor, but this is not taken into account for the grading. However, poor performance can often be explained by collective or individual shortcomings. But if a student has done everything they can to improve things, if they end up understanding what happened, including their own weaknesses, and know how to learn from the experience, this will be reflected in their grade, regardless of the company’s poor financial results or even bankruptcy,” explains François Mangin.
Another particular feature of this simulation is that each team member is required to assess their ‘colleagues’. “It’s similar to an Annual Appraisal Interview,” says François Mangin. “We ask them to highlight their peers’ strengths and areas for improvement. It’s quite a difficult exercise, different to a consensual approach and requiring an objective assessment of the qualities and level of each person”.
This written reports reveal how role-play situations gives students the opportunity to learn a lot about themselves. “They need to leave their comfort zones or their speciality areas. This is done in a variety of ways: developing a complex Excel spread sheet, dealing with accounts or finance if they are from a marketing background, expressing themselves should conflict arise, demonstrating leadership qualities, compromise, listening to objections, taking the time to explain, knowing how to ask for help… They discover new strengths… or areas for improvement.”
An instructive and enjoyable learning marathon
This final simulation has enormous pedagogical value. Another important feature, according to the students, is that they learn about the relationship that exists between the different departments in a company, particularly concerning power, negotiation and dependency. Students are rarely put into a situation where they get to deal with these kinds of problems at management level over a period of time, whether in class, through case studies or during an internship.
The final simulation is a marathon event stretching over 6 consecutive days – not counting the weekend, when work is also often done. “It is, I think, one of the densest work periods students go through during their entire time at school, and they say so themselves,” François Mangin points out. “They get caught up in the game very quickly, lunch is rushed and evenings are often long. It’s not uncommon for students to contact me after 11 p.m. or early on Sunday morning.” This implies knowing how to manage time to avoid the risk of burn out. “You have to know where the on-off switch is, like in real life, with the right to disconnect and find the right work-life balance, which is a growing demand in the world of work today”. Once again, the quality of teamwork plays an essential role: levels of stress and work time are not the same in a team that works well together compared to one that is dysfunctional.
This year’s simulation was held remotely due to the lockdown. This meant additional constraints and stress, but which also contributed to enhancing the simulation. The students had to learn to use the team collaboration platform, MS Teams, which is more professional than the usual Facebook groups, Whatsapp messaging and file sharing on Google… Without forgetting the time difference for some, whose classmates were locked down in Vietnam or Japan!
This simulation is one of the programme’s true highlights. “It is a unique and rewarding experience, and for many, it is a memorable experience. Some alumni even return to take part as facilitators, turning it into a transmission opportunity between future and former graduates,” concludes François Mangin.