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Combining Simulation and Reflection: Students Experience How to Run the Total Enterprise

Drexel University is a school that prides itself on experiential education, so what better way to showcase this unique dimension than to utilize a simulation where students run a business making critical decisions that will either result in success or failure?  Using an engaging total enterprise simulation from Capsim (http://www.capsim.com/), our students are benefitting from just such an experience. Jim Caruso is now facilitating this approach, by leveraging years of experience running similar simulations and integrating content for businesses in many different industries.    The students learn how a business works, how all functions are interrelated and how decisions impact results.   This course offers the students a meaningful experience through teamwork as well as innovative assessment techniques that help the students reflect on their own performance as well as that of their teams.

Building Simulations in the Classroom

Jim Caruso, MBA, CPA, MHRD, CPLP, is the Associate Director of the Corporate and Executive Education team at the LeBow College of Business and an Adjunct Management Instructor. He is a seasoned talent development professional who has designed, delivered, and managed customized and experiential business acumen and leadership development programs globally for over 15 years. He is also on the board of ABSEL (Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning).  LeBow has leveraged his talent not only to apply his skills in the graduate classroom, but also to maintain relationships with employer contacts.  Caruso teaches approximately 4 courses per year in various formats but his main focus is MGMT 601: Managing the Total Enterprise.  “Instead of a traditional classroom approach, this course uses the simulation to promote learning by doing and by evaluating results in a competitive environment. Students will learn core concepts, apply them to dynamic, changing business conditions and execute strategies designed to achieve real business objectives. Simulations help develop critical thinking skills and provide immediate feedback.”

The technology for this has been around since the 70s/80s.  It isn’t new at all,” Caruso stated.  “Companies in industry have been using it for a long time to develop their employees.”  Working in groups of five, students have to use their business acumen to run a company for eight simulated years in which they will analyze/plan, form strategies, make decisions and then reflect on what results those decisions have yielded.  Year to simulated year, they review results and make plans to improve performance.    Students are exposed to segmentation/targeting, pricing, operations/production, quality control, capacity, and they must also review financial statements as well as conduct analyses.   “Students can practice skills like leadership/management, teamwork, conflict resolution, communication, and how to influence others.  They also develop their own self-awareness by reflecting on their performance and reviewing how their team rates them.”  

Assessment and Reflection

If the experience of the simulation is the strength of the course, then then multiple opportunities to reflect and assess buttress that success.  “There are several self-assessment, team, and instructor assessment tools used. Collectively, they enable the students to see the correlation between a high performing team and business (financial and operational) performance.” Caruso explains. 

The After Action Review (AAR) occurs after each simulated year.  It starts off with a team discussion focused on three questions: 1) What did we intend to do? 2) What actually happened and why? and 3) What do we need to change/improve next time?  This process helps the student reflect on planning/forecasting and budgeting by looking at actual results.  Often times, students don’t have the opportunity to reflect upon past decisions and their consequences, but this process facilitates reflection and offers the chance to course correct.

Along with the three questions above, the students have to rate following five items on a 5-point scale

  1. Do I understand our strategy?
  2. Do I agree with the actions taken to implement our strategy?
  3. Do I feel that my input is valued and respected?
  4. Are we leveraging the diversity of the group?
  5. Do I feel that my team has effective decision making processes?

The students individually reflect and then the team meets to have a results debrief and start to plan for the next round/year.  This opportunity is presented to students to reflect on the success rate of the team and the individual’s impact or non-impact on that success.

The other developmental and performance based assessment tool is called TeamMATE (http://www.capsim.com/), and it provides 360-degree feedback to students.  “The students can use this information to diagnose their own behaviors and overall team functionality in real time to allow for corrective, developmental action,” Caruso states.  The students rate preparation, execution, monitoring and adjustment.  Team level dynamics are rated on confidence, coordination, cohesion, cooperation and conflict.  Students get a report in order to compare their ratings of themselves with their teammate’s ratings of them in order to find an unrecognized weakness or a blind spot.  A blind spot would be a skill in which the individual may rate themselves highly, but the rest of the team doesn’t agree.  “This constant cycle allows student to make mistakes and then learn.  Sometimes the teams learn the most from their mistakes.”

The faculty can use this to evaluate individual and team behavior and also correlate team dynamics scores with financial and operational results in the simulation over time, for analysis on the impact of effective team behaviors. Students even have the opportunity to earn extra credit for being rated highly by their teammates.  This data can be used to help guide current students, but also to plan potential changes for future courses.  “By reviewing results, I can see how much they need to be guided or just to let them go,” Caruso adds.

Multiple Delivery Formats

Currently, this course is being offered in three different delivery formats: face to face (11 weeks), online (11 weeks) and a 4-day face to face residency.  Whereas the face to face and online courses are generally composed of a mix of MBA and non-MBA students, the residency option consists of incoming MBA students.   Each of the delivery methods has its strengths and weaknesses.  The immersion and experience for the residency is on a different level than the 11-week courses, but practice time and reflection time is reduced.  The online course takes more time to get students up to speed on the simulation, but it could possibly have less assignments and also offers an asynchronous working environment.  The face to face course has the most opportunity for meetings and teacher/student facilitation, but it is limited somewhat in flexibility.  Developing three separate formats has actually led to cross method benefits.  One example of this is the creation of the recorded lectures for the online courses, which allow the face to face course to flip the classroom providing more time to work on other things like simulation round debriefs and real world examples.   Caruso states that he is still tinkering with each delivery method to try to improve every time the course is offered.

Managing the Total Enterprise brings together many beneficial activities and assessments to create a successful course that is both enjoyable and productive.  The students are able to learn about a business in a way that wouldn’t be available in a book and they reportedly enjoy it.  “The students rate the course very high and the faculty like to teach it since we also get to perform the roles of consultant, coach, and facilitator, in addition to lecturer,” Caruso concludes.