Building the Foundation for a Successful War Game

From the sounds of it, playing War Games seem inherently violent, or at the very least, all about defeating an enemy. Business War Games can get very energetic, and the goal is to find ways to succeed in competition, but that’s where the similarity ends. A well-planned business War Game develops models for how a competitor will act in the market, and uses these models to create strategies that will leverage whatever situation comes to pass to produce a market advantage.

There are four main aspects that have to be in place in order to have a successful business War Game:

  • Scenarios/Topics
  • Briefing Books
  • Session Facilitation
  • Follow-Up

While it is possible for the participants to enjoy a War Game if these aspects are not all in properly place, to produce results that impact the bottom line, all four must be done right.

Deciding on the scenario or topic will dictate how the rest of the session goes. A successful War Game needs to have a direct connection to a decision that is about to be made, or a market change that is about to happen.

Briefing books give participants all they need to know about the competitors and the market situation that the War Game will cover. The books need to be concise and focused since team members will not have the patience to read through an overly long document, nor will they have time to do so during the game. A shorter and accessible briefing book that they can skim on the flight and then then dig into on-site is more effective.

Facilitating a War Game is often best left to a skilled outsider who is able to navigate the power structures of the internal teams. Effective facilitation brings in the participation of every person in the game and makes sure that dominant voices don’t overpower everyone else. Good facilitation will also make it possible for a member to point out flaws in others’ reasoning, even if it’s something that’s obvious to everyone but no one is willing to express. (Think of the fable about the emperor’s new clothes as an example of how one person seeing the issue differently can change perspective for everyone.)

Once the War Game itself is completed the real work starts. This is when the follow-up actions are identified and implementation plans are put in place. Without this final step, getting any real results from the effort is difficult, if not impossible.

Over the coming months I’ll explore each of these four items and present some examples of what you can do to ensure the success of your next War Game.

– Erik Glitman, CEO