Bringing Business Case Studies Alive Through Theatre
In the end, we arrived at a carefully crafted 10-minute script in which a fictional four-person client executive team (played by two professional actors and two actual client consultants) engages in a heated discussion about the pros and cons of employing the consulting firm to carry out an important initiative.
Last week we were invited to a global conference in Paris for 100 high potential young executives at an international strategic consulting firm. Our assignment: design and deliver a learning program to increase the firm’s skills associated with building authentic relationship and trust with senior clients. The catch? Deliver the entire program in less than three hours.
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Given the constraints, this was clearly a time for innovation, creativity and efficiency. So we hired three theatre-based facilitators, two actors and a playwright and created a simulation.
The practice of using simulations to help people learn is not new. The army trains soldiers in large complex “war games” in which real life battle conditions are re-created in the desert to prepare troops for the look and feel of live fire. Stanford University School of Medicine has been a pioneer the field of ISL (Immersive and Simulation Based Learning) by inventing new technologies that allow young surgeons to practice important clinical skills before they work on real patients. For over 50 years the Model United Nations has sponsored academic simulations for students all over the world to take on the roles of diplomats for the purpose of debate, deliberation and discussion of critical issues based on actual international current events.
What, then, are the key factors that allow a learning simulation to be truly effective in a corporate training context? The work with our client in Paris last week confirmed that principles and practices from the professional theatre are central to success:
Collaborate with the client in design and delivery of the program
In the months preceding the event our playwright worked directly with a senior VP at the client company who provided an actual case based on one of his real life customers. We then changed the critical facts and personalities to disguise and protect the confidentiality of the “real” situation. In the end, we arrived at a carefully crafted 10-minute script in which a fictional four-person client executive team (played by two professional actors and two actual client consultants) engages in a heated discussion about the pros and cons of employing the consulting firm to carry out an important initiative. At the performance, our audience of consultants loved being able to observe what they could never see in real life—a client talking authentically behind “closed doors” about the merits of their services.
Keep it real
Following the performance of the script at the opening plenary session, the four “client characters” visited breakout rooms individually to meet the participants of the learning engagement. Throughout the simulation, we insisted on the importance of these client characters actually staying “in character.” Thus when the actor playing the CEO entered the breakout room, everyone agreed upon the conceit that he was there to meet with members of a team that would potentially serve as consultants to his fictional firm. From a learning perspective, this allowed the participants to get as close as possible to the reality of what its really like to meet with a client, and to receive feedback from our facilitators as to how well they built relationship and trust.
In the end, our program received some of the highest evaluations of the entire conference, reminding us that, while the stakes of a simulation are never as high as the reality that they are imitating, people nevertheless have a deep instinct and ability to play, and will authentically engage in a learning program that gives them that opportunity. So, whether it’s war, surgery, international diplomacy or strategic consulting, the value of using simulations as a tool for learning cannot be underestimated.
Want to hear more stories about how the Ariel Group assisted organizations? Read our Client Stories.