How business simulations can improve organisational change

27 October 2020 5 min. read

Realising change has become one of the most central priorities for organisations of all sizes, in light of today’s disruptive environment. Putting change to practice is however easier said than done. According to Marianne Pot and Rik de Groot from Xebia, one way for companies to improve their organisation change track record is through the use of business simulations. 

As with all things in life, experience is a key asset for change. In the case of organisations, working towards a ‘new normal’ is hard to realise if managers and staff have never experienced this new paradigm they are expected to achieve. This is where business simulations come in, which can be a powerful tool for organisational learning and development.

Business simulations are interactive learning experiences that allow participants to truly engage with objectives and interventions. Furthermore, it provides a safe environment where they can learn and experience situations that usually occur only once in a while (hence the limited experience upfront), and a freeze-frame which fosters discussion and knowledge sharing.

Drivers of change

To understand which primary drivers need to be considered during a simulation, at Xebia, we lean on the Burke-Litwin Change model. This model places four primary variables at the heart of any organisational change: the external environment, transformational factors, transactional factors, and individual factors and performance.

Burke-Litwin Change model

The external environment is often regarded as a catalyst for the other drivers, triggering internal transformational factors such as leadership, strategy and organisational culture. Combined, the four primary variables predict and explain the total behaviour output of an organisation. 

During the simulation, depending on the challenge, the accent could be on any one (or several) of the following 12 elements:

  • External environment: Factors as markets, legislation, competition, and the economy.
  • Mission and strategy: The reason for existing and how the organisation will go about achieving its mission.
  • Leadership: Attitudes and behaviour of senior colleagues and how the organisation perceives these behaviours as a whole. Individuals in leadership positions are responsible for developing a vision and for motivating the rest of the organisation to achieve it. 
  • Organisational culture: This considers the beliefs, behaviours, values, and conventions that prevail in an organisation.
  • Organisational structure: The way the organisation is structured and impacts relationships, responsibilities and ways of working.
  • Systems and policies: Policies, procedures, and mechanisms that have been set up to help and support employees, such as ICT resources, workplaces, meeting rooms, etc.
  • Management practices: Behaviour and activities of managers. How well do managers adhere to the strategy, and how do they deal with the available resources? How are their dealings with employees?
  • Work climate: Employees’ perception of the work environment. How do they experience cooperation? How comfortable do they feel? And do people think they are sufficiently rewarded for their efforts?
  • Task requirement and individual skills/abilities: Are all the right skills in place? Can they be developed? Or do they need to be brought in from outside?
  • Individual values and needs: Team dynamic. In a perfect world, we would recruit the exact fit for our teams regarding personal style, abilities, and skills mix. However, in reality, it is not always possible.
  • Motivation: What drives employees in combination with individual and organisational goals?
  • Individual and overall performance: Productivity, quality requirements, efficiency, accountability, and customer satisfaction. The balance between work and private life.

Using the outcome from the simulation, leaders can zoom in on identified bottlenecks using a root cause analysis.

Simulations accelerate learning processes

A simulation that mimics the real-world using future-oriented assumptions makes it clear much quicker where things can go wrong and what can be done about it. In our experience, simulation-based learning is just like the real thing. The dynamic environment of business simulations allows participants to put theory into practice in a risk-free environment.

Through this kind of experimentation, participants can put ideas to the test, see what works, and become innovative in their solutions to problems. Moreover, is can also be fun to undergo the same experience and work together towards future improvements. 

Communicate more openly

One notable advantage of game simulations lies in the area of communication. For example, in a simulation, a common language can be created for all participants irrespective of background or hierarchy, which facilitates more open communication. Gaming techniques can also help unravel issues and pinpoint areas of improvement, for instance in terms of responsibilities and handovers. The result is more mutual coordination and more ownership. 


The use of simulation is still an uncommon thing to do in the world of organisational change. However, in other complex environments such as aviation or transport, the method has already proven its value and is a common practice. In our experience, simulations will increasingly be applied in the field of organisational change, delivering a range of benefits in the process.

For more information on Xebia's approach for simulations, see the firm's Accelerate Simulation offering.