How to Challenge all Management Levels Through Business Simulations

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated October 2023

We often get asked whether our Business Simulations can be used to engage all levels of management in an organization. The answer is yes.

Our Business Simulations address four distinct levels of management:

  • Emerging Talent and High Potentials
  • New and Junior Leaders
  • Middle Management
  • Senior Leaders

Picking the Right Simulation

Some of our Simulations are aimed at specific levels, whereas others can be used with all levels, albeit set up and facilitated differently. For example, our Business Acumen Simulation has been used at all four levels, as it offers a good mix of the operational and strategic and is flexible enough to be set up and facilitated in different ways (and focus).

On the other hand, our Team Leadership Simulation is really focused on the operational challenges of scheduling and leading a team and is not appropriate for Senior Leaders.

Levels and Simulations

For New Leaders, Junior Leaders and Middle Managers our Simulations usually present challenges that are more operational in nature, with the dilemmas being more day-to-day because these are the kinds of decisions they may encounter in their jobs.

For Senior Managers the decisions presented will be more strategic, and the dilemmas faced will be more complex to resolve (e.g., with multiple stakeholders).

For Emerging Talent, we tend to present the same type of strategic decisions as with Senior Management (but with the difficulty “dialled down” – see below) to give the participants a flavour of what lies ahead in their future careers.

Manage Simulation Difficulty 

There are many ways we can manage the Simulation difficulty:

Firstly, we can adjust the Simulation difficulty level setting, varying from easiest to most difficult. This setting impacts the actual results of the Simulation algorithms.

We can also vary how long teams get to play each round of decisions, which will put them under different levels of time pressure. We can give participants different levels of briefing, explanation, and support. We can also introduce roleplay; for example, we can have someone play the CEO role (in the context of the Simulation) who can be briefed to be more or less challenging and demanding to teams.

We can add in unexpected events, such as participants suddenly being transferred between teams (thus creating extra on-boarding work) or swapping In-Sim roles during a session.

There is an option to introduce additional Off-Sim exercises that have to be completed in sync with the deadlines of the Simulation, for example, a requirement for teams to work together, with each team having unique bits of information (Information Asymmetry).

With Senior Teams, we have used some particularly innovative approaches. For example, only having one team play the Simulation, thus avoiding the potentially destructive competitive dynamics of splitting a Senior Team into two competing units. In this case, the competitive element can be provided by the single team trying to earn its place on the all-time global leaderboard for that Simulation.

Another interesting dynamic (to make things even more challenging) is for a team to play two Simulations in parallel; e.g., in Sim 1, they are running the enterprise, and in Sim 2, running concurrently, they are running a major change programme in the same enterprise.


Business Simulations can be used with all levels of management and leadership, provided you first take the time to understand the group, pick an appropriate Simulation, set the optimum difficulty level, and decide if Off-Sim exercises are appropriate.

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More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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