The key people roles needed for transformational learning through simulation

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated April 2017


In our experience there are 4 key roles in creating a great learning experience through a simulation.

These are Business Sponsor, Business Subject Matter Expert (SME), Lead Facilitator and Team Facilitator. A single individual can play more than one role but all 4 roles need to be present for maximum results.

1. Business Sponsor

This is a client role responsible for making sure that the simulation shows up to the participants as something which is important to the senior management of the company. It is usually a “top and tailing” role where the sponsor introduces the simulation challenge to the teams and come back at the close to see (or judge) how everyone did. The more senior the Business Sponsor the better!

Risk if Role is Absent: The participants treat the whole thing like a game and don’t really take it seriously!

2. Subject Matter Expert (SME)

This can be either a client or a consultant role. The SME is responsible for answering any questions above the subject area which the simulation covers. It can be a tricky role as the answers need to be credible but not too detailed otherwise the participants may try and “game” the simulation. One of the strongest ways to play the role is by constantly giving real examples from the business to explain the simulation. In certain cases if the simulation is built around deep subject matter knowledge then the SME may also need to play an active coaching role within the simulation teams however this is generally not the case.

Risk if Role is Absent:

If the facilitators are not able to answer reasonable questions well then the participants can quickly lose confidence in the simulation.

3. Lead Facilitator

The Lead Facilitator is responsible for the smooth operation of the whole simulation event. This can be either a client or consultant role. They lead from the front and introduce the simulation and are responsible for ensuring the pace of the session is right. Too fast and people start the simulation confused and it only gets worse. Too slow and people get bored and start reading ahead or checking out.

Risk if Role is Absent:

If this role is absent or weak the whole session may drift with teams going at different speeds. The learning will not be good and the participants will likely end up confused.

4. Team Facilitator

If there are only a couple of teams then the Lead Facilitator can also support the teams in the role of Team Facilitator in their discussions and decision making. However if you have more teams then the Lead Facilitator will need help. For every additional two team you add beyond this you need to consider adding a team facilitator. Team Facilitator is a very critical role and can impact the quality of the participant learning greatly. The facilitator can be passive or pro-active and can operate any or all of the 3 different learning domains – subject area, team dynamics and/or individual style. The duties of a simulation facilitator are described in more detail in Business Simulation Games: Facilitation Skills 101

Risk if Role is Absent:

The teams will have a great time collaborating and competing with each other but it will be at the expense of all the learning conversations.

For more on how to structure a team business simulation event for transformational learning checkout A team game engagement process which guarantees transformative learning.

Let's Connect

And a member of our Team will be in touch


We have 150+ articles on a wide range of Business Leadership Topics
Explore articles

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.

Contact Ken

Want to know more about this topic?

As well as starting the conversation we will send you a FREE Executive Summary of our Book:

A Systematic Guide to Game Based Learning in Organizations


We transform Leadership Development using Business Simulations, guided by three principles:

Goals, Roles & Souls

Why Choose Business Simulations?

We champion Business Simulations as an effective and engaging form of Leadership Development. 'Learn by doing' hones skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Learn more

Let's Talk Business Simulations

We would love to tell you more about what we can do for your Business.
Feel free to give us a call on +44 2896 237253

Close App
Request a Consultation