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When, a few weeks ago, the Purchasing Director of an important client portfolio, asked us after our presentation why “our workshops included so many role plays”, we realised that the answer that we usually gave was not necessary that obvious to everybody as it was to us… and that it was worth writing a brief article about it.

What’s a role play?

 Let’s start from the beginning by clarifying this notion.

A role play is an activity during which one or several persons perform the role(s) of real or imaginary characters, outside their usual environment, in a fictional setting. Participants accomplish both physical and narrative actions (improvised dialogues, descriptions) or take decisions as far as characters and/or the scenario’s development are concerned

Role play is about suggesting to people that they play/improvise imaginary or recreated situations from a real situation. The objective is for participants to discover how they would spontaneously behave if they were put in a particular situation, but also to find out how their personal resources would make them act differently in a given circumstance. The objective is obviously to explore what is likely to happen in a given situation according to trainees’ unalike attitudes and reactions, in addition to allowing other participants to observe the same situation from a different point of view.

Why are role plays so effective to use for professional training?

The pedagogical value of role plays within a context of a professional training workshop is that it, more easily than other learning methods, allows to acknowledge various and unconscious behaviours in stressful, conflictive, interpersonal or business negotiation situations.

One can always argue that each participant has competencies and ways of learning that are specific to him. However facts and research are clear on this. They revealed, for example, that reading is the least efficient learning method compared to others: it’s more difficult to digest and understand the information when we read and we often only memorize it for a short period of time. Listening to presentation is slightly more effective; then follows on the rating scale showing the range of efficiencies, attending a training session or watching it on a video support. Learning methods that offer participants the opportunity to actively engage in training activities come first in the classification.

As it’s not feasible to have an exact reproduction of situations on the ground, we use role playing to make sure we are as close as possible to the most effective learning methods!

Role plays are a powerful way to sensitize learners on co-workers’ experiences and behavioural consequences on the ground. We could give the example of one of our corporate customers where it was hard for managers to perceive through the regular annual evaluation sessions the negative collateral effects of staff demotivation and frustration. In addition to delivering training, we thought it would be worth conceiving:

  1. an interactive complete tutorial video
  2. a role play based on a real situation narrated by participants after the preparatory interviews: the scenario, that we named Sagna and Ndiaye, was about a typical situation of communication issues during an objectives planning session in a stressful professional context. Sagna’s objective, in this role play, is to overcome interpersonal communication issues with his colleague and to find a suitable solution after his assistant, Ndiaye, was assigned wrong responsibilities delegation and the erroneous objective.

Through role plays, we can objectively analyse a situation, not only to the benefit of players but also for observers.

How can we link and optimise role plays’ efficiency with a training objective?

It’s important to emphasize on the fact that the efficiency of role plays differs from one training workshop to another. They are more efficient for what is commonly referred to as “social learnings” and “soft skills” such as sales techniques, negotiations skills, communication, animation, customer service as well as other behavioural and communication skills for which the relationship aspect is essential.

Role plays must also relate to an emotionally rich, but not too personal, situation in which participants want to engage. The facilitator needs to encourage participants to keep their sense of humour in order to make the situation more comfortable, but also to keep in mind that it’s a game and to make sure they take the necessary hindsight to analyse a situation they have already experienced or that they will one day experience on the ground.

After establishing the rules, preparing a simulation form and creating paper characters that describe individual roles and intentions, here is how a typical role play session goes:

  1. presentation of the objectives and rules of the role play
  2. detailed presentation of the selected situation:

you can see one example of a situation presentation that we developed in 2011 for a training workshop in negotiation skills for a team of Orange, the communications company, in charge of the launch of a new money wire product called Orange-Money in a sub-Saharan Africa country. The situation was specifically about the development of a matrix of objectives and the preparation of exit strategies.

  1. Distribution of contextual and character documents to participants and preparation of the group activity
  2. simulation
  3. feedback collection and sharing
  4. conclusion


The use of videos has considerably increased the efficiency of role plays’ learning methods, because not only do participants have the opportunity to experience different situations, but they can also later on watch corresponding videos and confirm the facilitator’s and observers’ feedback that they might have been sceptical about. This is why we systematically use videos for all our training workshops.

Our team building seminars also include, in a different format, situations and games that are very close to the reality, during which participants’ adrenalin is highly perceivable and players reveal themselves as being able to overcome challenges.

Follow the link to learn more about People Development training workshops in soft management skills.

GREENTEL role play

You are staff members of GREENTEL, the renowned communications company.

You’re getting ready for negotiations to the account of the Green Money department in charge of mobile money transfer with a new distributor, the distribution and retailers network of the famous pop drink Caco-Cool-la! in Senegal that you want to work with to promote our mobile money transfer services…

The context preceding future negotiations with Caco-Cool-la!

 Caco-Cool-la! possesses a distribution and retailers network that functions very well. It’s more experienced, more structured and considerably broader than Green Money’s.

The company has recently significantly extended its network through the creation of moderately priced Micro Distribution Centres (MDC), in order to offer employment opportunities in bottom of the pyramid markets in Senegal.

This network of Micro Distribution Centres (MDC) is owned and managed by private entrepreneurs. It facilitated the bottler’s, Caco-Cool-la!, market penetration and its access to numerous small volume and low income retail sales points. These micro retailers, initially called manual distribution centres, have allowed Caco-Cool-la’s products to be more accessible through facilitating access to remote areas. They have also made customer service improve by offering on demand supply services to meet small retailers’ needs.

The strength of the MDC model that significantly influenced the positioning of Caco-Cool-la, resides in their massive investment and their establishment of a systemised process through which the company evaluates the need and profitability of each centre’s location, recruits owners and operators through a call for applications and offers support to ensure that new MDC are fully operational. The establishment cycle goes as follows:

viability evaluation> identification of owners/operators> funding, training and setting up of new micro entrepreneurs> launch as well as daily, monthly and annual monitoring of MDC performances and progress.

GREENTEL has a less extensive distribution channel that is however geographically complementary to Caco-Cool-la! GREENTEL has less control on its network than Caco-Cool-la! and also presents a less methodical training/evaluation element for its retailers.

Caco-Cool-la! retailers on the other hand, who are rather used to certain rigour and quality requirements, could perfectly also distribute GREENTEL Green Money’s services. It would indeed be too expensive for GREENTEL to broaden its direct distribution channel to the size of Caco-Cool-la!’s.

This partnership would be equally beneficial to Caco-Cool-la! In order to save time and further improve its logistical organisation and the accuracy of its cash flow evaluation in the distribution channels, the beverage company would benefit from having its vendors and distributors make payments through Green Money before the deliveries…

Caco-Coo-la !’s influence in this negotiation is probably stronger than GREENTEL’s. GREENTEL has a lot more to lose than Caco-Cool-la! if the negotiation fails.  What are GREENTEL’S specific objectives in this negotiation? What compensations can we think of? What concessions can we make and how far can they go? What propositions can we suggest for what options?

NOTE: Each group reads his individual “context and situation card » and appoints his negotiator.

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