Flow, Leadership and Serious Games: A Pedagogical Perspective – Part 3

By: Zoltan Buzady Ph.D., Central European University Business School, Hungary.

Part 1

Part 2

Serious Gaming Technology Enables Blended Learning Pedagogy


Our aim in this contribution is also to tell the reader our experiences about using this particular serious game as a blended learning tool for effective training and development of Flow-based leadership and management skill (Marer et al., 2015). Our observations were gained during numerous corporate training and university courses with 10,000+ participants in various locations.

The topics covered by FLIGBY’s plot and the decision dilemmas during the Game make it an appropriate teaching tool in a variety of courses, such as: Leadership – Managing People (Human Resources), Leadership Development – Self-Management, Business Strategy and Business Development, Marketing in the Context of General, Organizational Behavior and Managing Change, Managing Agricultural Enterprises, especially Wineries, Leading Teams, Entrepreneurship, Cross-cultural Management, Management , Sustainability in Business, Business Ethics, Applied Psychology.

For an effective, meaningful and yet entertaining leadership development process we recommend to follow 4 plus 1 optional phases or stages when using FLIGBY as a training tool.


1. The Briefing Session – What to tell players before the game

This section contains information for instructors and trainers who plan to adopt FLIGBY in a course or a training program. The preparation and implementation requirements fall into two major categories, which should be made available to the players before they start the Game:

  1. Personal preparation by the instructor: The instructor herself or himself should be playing FLIGBY first, completing the Game. It is essential that a teacher play FLIGBY so as to experience the Game’s potential, to be prepared to understand students’ comments later, to be able to answer their questions and to be ready to conduct stimulating debriefing session(s) during the third phase.
  2. Introducing FLIGBY to the participants: We suggest that during the introductory session the instructor summarizes the key features of the Game and indicate where and how FLIGBY fits into the course material.


2. Intermediate Sessions & Continuous Feedback

An intermediate session between the briefing and debriefing session of FLIGBY are valuable opportunities to enhance the learning and personal development process. A blended-learning approach already takes place when serious games are designed for educational purposes because the development of a game itself typically involves cooperation between scholars and other professionals on the one hand and experts in game design and programming on the other. Scholars bring theoretical knowledge; and they – and other experts, too – contribute applied knowledge on the topic. The creation of FLIGBY is a good example.


Illustration 4 – Teaching with FLIGBY  A blended learning approach with a “flipped” classroom (own illustration)


Illustration 4 shows how teaching with the Game is most effective via a blended learning approach. The drawing depicts a so-called flipped classroom, a pedagogical model where the typical “lecture”, followed by “homework”, is reversed. Video lectures are viewed or serious videogames are played by students at home (out of class), while class time is devoted to discussion, exercises, and projects.

FLIGBY has been designed to give each player a continuous stream of valuable, multidimensional feedback.  De Freitas and Routledge (2013) write “… the aspect of feedback in games lends well to monitoring performance and building up the acquisition of soft skills (…) but game-based feedback is formative and continuous (…) and has positive benefits for learning” (page 955).

Providing frequent, specific, and actionable feedback is one of the most important features of Flow-promoting leadership practices – as it is a crucial element also for successful learning and enjoyable gaming.

The two dozen different kinds of feedback given to FLIGBY players are of three types if we use as the basis of classification the time when the feedback is given:

(1) Multiple feedback while playing the Game

The player can periodically or continually check the Game’s dashboard for instruments that show how the GM’s decisions impact the Flow state of each member of the management team, the “corporate atmosphere”, and the Winery’s profit potential. Each time the player manages to get someone into a Flow state, FLIGBY signals that the player has collected a Flow trophy, and each time the player’s decisions promote/enhance the environmental sustainability of the Winery’s operations, FLIGBY signals that a Sustainability badge has been earned.However, each player receives much more than quantifiable feedback:

The player can periodically or continually check the Game’s dashboard for instruments that show how the GM’s decisions impact the Flow state of each member of the management team, the “corporate atmosphere”, and the Winery’s profit potential. Each time the player manages to get someone into a Flow state, FLIGBY signals that the player has collected a Flow trophy, and each time the player’s decisions promote/enhance the environmental sustainability of the Winery’s operations, FLIGBY signals that a Sustainability badge has been earned.

However, each player receives much more than quantifiable feedback: he or she will also obtain, continually and visually, emotional-reaction-based feedback from the members of the team as they respond with voice-tone and body-language to the GM’s communications with them and to the GM’s decisions affecting them. One characteristic of a Flow-friendly manager is that he or she pays attention to such type of feedback, as opposed to just continuing on his or her merry way, as many “bosses” do in real life.

At the end of each scene, Mr. Fligby, the player’s personal game, and leadership mentor and coach, is ready to offer personal feedback. At several junctures in the Game, the player will get a signal that FLIGBY’S Multimedia Library has a brief classic reading or video to guide the GM on the decisions he or she is about to make. Those resources provide intellectual-academic learning and reinforce the overall purpose of the course or the training program where FLIGBY is used. The player has the choice of making use of those aids or skipping them and possibly revisiting them later.

And there is, of course, the grand prize: the Spirit of the Wine Award. The player will learn only at the end of the Game whether he or she has succeeded in earning that Award, a measure of the player’s success in skillfully balancing difficult tradeoffs, such as generating individual Flow, enhancing the quality of the corporate atmosphere, earning a satisfactory profit, and adequately protecting the environment.

How deeply a player wants to engage in playing FLIGBY is up to him or her, guided of course by the instructor or trainer (for example, by making certain readings mandatory). At the other end of the options, a player may play FLIGBY straight through, enjoying its decision challenges, and seeing where “gut” decisions are leading. Alternatively, the player can make use of some or all of FLIGBY’S “bells and whistles” by checking, or asking for and responding to, the multiple feedback available throughout the Game.

(2) Feedback when finishing the Game

A comprehensive, automatically-generated report on the strengths and weaknesses of each player’s leadership profile, is sent individually to each player (as well as to his or her instructor/trainer) right after the Game.  This feature will be discussed in the section on skills evaluation.

(3) Multiple feedback during debriefing the Game

Discussion with the player’s peers – during the debriefing sessions arranged by the instructor/trainer – on the reasons why some players have made different choices on key decisions from other players or the Game’s designers did. (See next section.)


3. The Debriefing Session: Review the Game, Proceed to Implementation

Debriefing sessions are a vital part of the overall learning and training process: participants explain their thinking and reasoning on decision dilemmas and debate with each other. This additional learning is especially useful because everyone will hear that there are numerous plausible and defensible ways to think about a problem or to react to a situation (in the case study, the simulation game etc.). Some differences will reflect varied cultural backgrounds (the instructor may emphasize); others can be traced to distinct personalities, shaped by inherited genes and individual experiences. Such discussions are bound to open minds, strengthen tolerance toward other views, and teach the importance of empathy with others (especially subordinates). Tolerance toward different views and empathy with others are essential skills in a Flow-based management framework.


4. Follow-up Options: Skills Evaluation and Sustainable Development

One of the first steps in the development of FLIGBY was identifying the skills helpful for generating Flow, along with other typical management/leadership skills. Upon finishing the Game, each player receives a detailed, benchmarked report on his or her 29 managerial/leadership skills, as well as areas suggested for further development. The report shows relative strengths and weaknesses within each individual’s own skills profile. At the same time, each skill and group of skills are automatically benchmarked against the average of the player’s cohort (for example, employees of an organization who played the Game at the same time, or that of a class whose instructor assigned FLIGBY).  In addition, instructors and trainers may request other, tailor-made comparisons with specified benchmark groups (e.g., by industry, age, leadership level), which FLIGBY’s service providers will assemble from the detailed (but anonymous) scores of the thousands who had played FLIGBY up to that point.

In addition to employing FLIGBY for its intended purpose, namely, to help individual managers/leaders and organizations to create a Flow-friendly workplace, further value of a game like FLGIBY is its ability to measure, without bias, the leadership skill set of perspective (to be hired) managers or that of its current management group. An organization may rely on FLIGBY’s skill set  (which overlaps a great deal with other, frequently used, leadership skill set classifications) if it does not have its own so-called “competency system”.  FLIGBY’s skill set can be readily translated into any organization’s own leadership competency system. Either way, the skill feedback a company obtains at the conclusion of the Game about its own personnel can be benchmarked, in various ways, within and outside the organization. The results can serve as the basis for a company to establish personal development plans for each participant.


5. New Vistas for Corporate and Academic Research

Knowledge of the skill levels of employees obtained during a serious game can be especially useful for predictive-HR-analysis. This new, analytical approach is employed when an organization faces (or might soon be facing) a new challenge, which requires certain managerial/leadership/strategic skills. One of the most useful applications of predictive analysis is in case of planned mergers and acquisitions, where the incompatibility of organizational cultures can be – and often is – a fundamental cause of failure. In sum, game-based learning, used appropriately, can help corporations build strategic skills in a timely, cost-effective and focused manner – a critical capability in today’s dynamic business environments.

Furthermore, serious games can create an experiential, interactive and tailored common understanding of key management/leadership/strategy concepts at a low cost and in an easily scalable manner across the entire organization. Games can be rolled out easily to all relevant managers and key staff members. Whereas conferences, seminars, and coaching practically limit the number of participants.

In addition to FLIGBY’s credentials as a game-based leadership teaching and training tool, the Game also offers a unique databank, generated by thousands of player decisions linked to skill measures, ready to be exploited for academic research purposes.

In the above sentence, the adjective “unique” – so often used to fluff and hype ordinary things – is an appropriate descriptor for the large number of data observations that players of FLIGBY contribute to the data bank during their game-play.

In order to document the unique properties of the FLIGBY dataset and its particular suitability for research, we need to explain briefly the distinctive, systematic biases that are unfailingly present in the other methods of establishing (rating) leadership competencies. The Game creates an environment that offers a new type of platform for observing management behavior. The player gets totally absorbed into the story and game plot. The player unwittingly reveals his or her real self. This approach to testing skills is non-intrusive. It is not influenced by the Idiosyncratic Rater Effect. It is not distorted by the player feeling observed and thinking that he/she must respond as expected. And the player is not worried about the embarrassment of having to respond in front of peers, who will judge him/her. In playing FLIGBY, each player can and will behave like he/she would in similar situations in real life; being true to himself/herself.

About 10,000 people have played FLIGBY to date, generating more than three million data points, a number that is expected to increase ten- to hundred-fold in the coming years. The accumulated Big-Data available for research purposes are anonymous in that the identity of the players is protected in a foolproof way. At the same time, the replies can be sorted by age bracket, experience level, gender, nationality, work-culture, the economic sector the player works in at the time of playing the Game. Given the large size and the uniquely unbiased properties of the FLIGBY databank, it obviously represents a great empirical resource for leadership research.

Possible future research question are are the following. Are measured management skills and in particular, the four Flow-Leadership skills consistent across national cultures or can significant differences be traced? What is the relationship between the 29 leadership skills measured during the game and the other independent variables of the players, such as their organizational hierarchical position, their professional identity, their age, the number of years and industry of their work experience? How can the many behavioral data gained during game-play be best used for supporting HR and strategic planning of organizations? Can managers trained with this serious game become better in leading with Flow and thus creating more effective and more successful organizations in the long run?