Using serious games at university courses vs. corporate training projects

Last week I held a very interesting interview with Dr. Zoltan Buzady, who – beside being an experienced and acknowledged professor of Management & Leadership Development at CEU Business School, Hungary – is Managing Director of the global ‘Leadership & Flow Research Program and Network’, organized in cooperation with ALEAS Simulations Inc.  He has vast experience on how FLIGBY can be incorporated into a great university course but has pioneered also new, and innovative ways on how the serious game can be the foundation for an outstanding training series for personal and/or group leadership development at companies and orther organizations. As the Director of the above mentioned research program he also sees new patterns emerging as the Fligby players come with very different cultural, economic and personal backgrounds. I have asked him to share these new insights, so that others can also benefit from it:



Dr. Buzady, what differences do you see when using serious games, such as FLIGBY a leadership simulation game, on your university courses and on your corporate training projects?

Well, the first difference is the overall context of the learning process:  University students normally have a number of different sources which put them under hard pressure and they need to balance between all those at the same time. Not only hey have obligations towards to their actual workplace or companies but also the school and my fellow instructors ask them to accomplish a number of projects and tasks, individually and in groups. They complete their studies in addition to their managerial workload thus their families and private life is also affected. A university student cannot just opt-out of a certain course assignment or a session – this might be particularly hard, but also brings the huge advantage: one progress in her own learning and development. In contrast to this a participant on a corporate training and under particularly large work pressure is much more inclined simply not to attend a training session or is constantly on and off. Also the role of the corporate HR must be considered: although the leadership training content has been mutually agreed upon at the outset, they can be particular forces with prompt HR partners to intervene and to modify the training plan. Most modifications of a university course typically happen only during the first session when the psychological and formal course contracting happen.

However, I think that when one is using an innovative training approach such as a serious games during a leadership development, it is advisable that the teacher/trainer, takes a strong and leading hand vis-a-vis the HR professionals who are less familiar with the hidden/true developmental potential of the serious game. Often their interactions also might lessen the positive impact of the Flow-based leadership training. 

Any other difference you have observed?

Yes.The second big difference is related to the pacing of the learning process. University students have much more time integrating the new concepts of Flow, leadership and the overall serious gaming experience into their own personal and/or professional lives. I ask them to write a personal learning blog in which they track their personal progress in the previously mentioned topics from week to week. I found that this practice ensures that they not just learn abstract concepts and write something intellecutal into their blogs, but in this way they can also integrate it with their personal development in real life and real workcontext. In a company training the available total learning time is much more limited, thus the deliver the whole concept has to be much more streamlined. Because often participants do not take the learning blog activity as serious or postpone it, there is a larger risk that the essence of Flow-based leadership as a new leadership practice remains somewhat superficial.

Professor, can you also tell us positive examples of how corporate HR team have used serious games?

Sure. Recently I have also experienced very positive and creative HR teams: they have used the Fligby-based training as an assessment tool and then developed individual coaching and skills development programs, based upon the individual management and leadership skills demonstrated during game play. And let me tell you yet one more positive application of the serious game-based learning experiences: It happened that the HR director decided to request from all Flow-leadership training participants to expand, to apply and to implement the newly learned concept not only into their daily work – which of course is the major goal of any training – but also to make it an integral part of the organizational continuous development process: Everybody had to elaborate and commit to an individual and a team-level management action or change plan which will maintain the Flow-leadership initiative. After some month they will review what has worked out and what projects wore successful.

And what about the teacher versus trainer comparison? Are they the same or not?

A small but significant difference is that  university professors, “teachers”, typically use FLIGBY as one possible tool in their much broader teaching portfolio. Also after the Fligby simulation game they normally return to the more general concepts, overarching theories and course topics. In contrast to this a trainer normally uses few “training tools” and Fligby is more dominant in the overall training portfolio. Thus a trainer tends to know much more about the play dynamics, the learning process and the ‘twists’ in the games. Also a Certified Fligby Trainer would follow-up after game play with a detailed plan and solution for implementing individual skills development.

Aren’t university courses all about grades after all?

Yes. Most courses end with a final grade. That is fine and normal. Still students deserve and are much looking for quality and personalised feedback. I give a lot of feedback and the game too has almost 20+ different types of feedback (see our next report with Dr. Zoltan Buzady).

Mature students actually value the peer comments and suggestions much more than my ‘final grades’, fortunately. It is more important to them to be able make experiments how to integrate the new subjects into their daily work life – so they get real grading from real work colleagues, clients and bosses…

In a company setting grading progress on leadership development would be more risky, in my opinion. The web of interpersonal relationships, hidden coalitions and cliques, and organizational politicking would lead fast misinterpretation and abuse of any grades I would give. If players know each other from a workplace they must be assured that they can try out any new leadership style they would like to learn and practice or exercise with without losing their personal reputation or organizational respect.

Is leadership local or global? What are your views on this debate?

The national and business culture setting of FLIGBY is clearly the US and Western Europe in many main aspects. Actually some MBA students from the best Business Schools in Asia and India have already highlighted to us, how useful this game was for their cross-cultural development and understanding how to strive in their future careers if entering such work environment.

I am telling you that this mono-cultural setting of the simulation game is very useful to teach, discuss and learn about cultural diversity also! During my sessions I show a few critical scenes from the game and then we have never-ending, emotionally-charged, multicultural perspectives and debates about “what would be the ideal business approach in your home country to the decision dilemma?”. Everybody realizes the cultural automatism, precepts, and prejudices we normally operate within what we would think is a “rational business decision”.

So you see – there are emerging typical “international business cultural benchmarks”, but local differences remain and a manager must be aware of those!

You have vast experience in teaching FLIGBY in many different countries. Did you notice some differences?

Well, first of all I am always had very outstanding students: highly motivated to learn, to play and to cooperate with each other and me, as their teacher. Also they all took the opportunity serious to have an innovative course which at its heart was about their own individual future and leadership development.

But if you want to hear some more subjective impressions of mine, I might tell you my experiences in the Ukraine. I was invited to teach on a very innovative MBA program for future social change agents, who had been selected on highly competitive aspects. You must know that their country is now in fundamental and impressive change, thus everything is in flux. Also by the time I got to teach them they were told repeatedly to be “critical thinkers of anything presented to them” – so we spent a bit more time than usual to form our psychological contract what this course would be about: primarily an opportunity for their personal development, and no need to come-up with alternatives to existing best practices of international management practices. But rather soon we developed a great learning environment and I wish them all and their country all the best for the future!

And in Kazakhstan for whatever reason we had a very long discussion over the first decision dilemma in the game: whether or not to follow the vague idea of the company owner to have a look together at the company’s website, although it is your very first introduction meeting as the new General Manager with him.

Now I see why you enjoy this type of training so much!

Yes I do, but more importantly my students and training customers do too! The examples above show that this game is ideal for personal reflections on one’s current leadership practice and to generate new alternatives through the many peer conversations. There is so much to talk about in any company related to FLIGBY: what is your typical leadership style? Is it effective for all employees? Does it optimize organizational performance? How could a better organization, more Flow-friendly and more motivating be created?

Do you also experience happiness during your teaching with Fligby?

Yes – very often and substantial. Lastly a participant shared with me a personal insight he got: For long he had misinterpreted the importance of a team-member, who repeatedly wanted to take group photos during work. However after the training he realized that this must surely be a Flow-inducing factor for that particular colleague and asked him to take professional photos of this whole department. Within a day or two of his changed managerial reactions the particular subordinate became more significantly more motivated and effective in other work-related tasks and duties also. Having had such a clear impact of my teachings on company effectiveness is a clear source of happiness for me! So – Flow me!