You are on page 1of 8



analysis into a written or oral business report. Business environments always involve uncertainty, but systematic analysis allows us to understand clearly and be able to explain to others the reasons behind decisions. Reference
Harvey, J. B. (1996). The Abilene Paradox and other meditations on management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Daphne A. Jameson is on the faculty of the School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University. She has been active in the Modern Language Association and the Conference on College Composition and Communication, as well as president of the Association for Business Communication. Address correspondence to Daphne A. Jameson, Cornell University, 350 Statler Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853; email:


Indiana University Purdue University at Columbus

DOI: 10.1177/1080569909334559

THE USE OF simulation games in business courses is a popular method for providing undergraduate students with experiences similar to those they might encounter in the business world. As such, in 2003 we were pleased to find a classroom simulation tool that combined the decision-making and team experiences of a senior management group with a fun, realistic, and competitive plot: We selected the Business Strategy Game (BSG; GLO-BUS Software, 2008), an online simulation for use with the textbook Crafting and Executing Strategy: The Quest for Competitive Advantage (Thompson, Strickland, & Gamble, 2007). We then enhanced the student experience by blending the simulation game with reflective writing tools that help students recognize how team experiences and decisions ripple though an enterprise.
Authors' Note: The authors wish to thank Hannah Bolte for her valued editing efforts in helping us prepare this article for publication.



The reflective writing component has proven invaluable by providing our students with an edge that has led to their outstanding ranking among a worldwide field of competitors. Since 2005, our business teams have won four global BSG Best Strategy Invitationals (2005, 2007, and two in 2008), a success rate more than 4 times higher than would be statistically expected for any of the approximately 200 teams participating each semester. Our teams successfully vie against international competitors, even though we are a small 2,000-student regional campus of Indiana University with almost exclusively underprepared first-generation students seeking the business degree as a doorway into the middle class. Background on BSG The BSG program is user friendly; all data are stored by its administrators at the University of Alabama, including a comprehensive student manual. Thus, the program requires no software loaded onto home, office, or school computers. This is an important consideration for our typically nontraditional students, many of whom have few technology resources. In the simulation, student teams are assigned to run an athletic footwear company against companies run by other student teams. Winning teams must design and implement a competitive strategy. The details of the simulation reproduce real day-to-day business realities. BSG is premised on competitive strategies, so winners are determined by factors such as the quantity of shoes sold, price point relative to competing teams, style and quality, product line, and advertising. Teams first compete against their classmates. Winning teams are then invited to participate in a global competition against teams from other schools. Approximately 300 teams from 125 schools in eight countries form into industries of 11 to 12 companies each. As in their individual classroom competitions, teams compete in 10 rounds of decision making in these global industry championships. Our students have participated in 11 of these championships. BSG in Our Classrooms In our class, we assign team members by their business specialization, either in practice or in their degree program, so that each team



contains a blend of majors and perspectives. The teams self-select each members role (CEO, CFO, COO, and CMO) but tend to adhere closely to the specializations for which they were assigned to the team. Throughout the classroom competitions as well as the global campaigns, the simulation game sends feedback reports to the student teams, outlining the results of merging individual team decisions with those of their rival teams. This requires significant interpretation from the students; each teams decisions are made in a vacuum, based on individual expectations of industry trends that may or may not manifest as expected. In addition, the amount of data presented can serve as information overload for many students, who then must learn to select which information is pertinent for their next decision round. Information includes regional and segmented market shares, balance sheet and income statement data, lending rates, credit reports, and a trend analysis as well as average prices, costs, employee training, marketing expenditures, and many other metrics. The outcomes from each round seem representative of the real results, fallouts, and consequences of both internal and external actions that we as instructors have seen in our 53 years of combined industry experience. Reflective Practice Across Curricula Boyd and Fales (1983) defined reflective learning as the process of internally examining and exploring an issue of concern, triggered by an experience, which creates and clarifies meaning in terms of self, and which results in a changed conceptual perspective (p. 99). Reflective writing practices have been used successfully for decades in education, nursing, medical arts, and social science. First introduced to academic pedagogy by Schn (1983), reflective practice asks practitioners to trust their tacit knowledge as they reflect on their experiences. Schn separated the process into stages: reflection-inaction, which occurs while an event is in process, and reflection-onaction, which occurs after an event is consciously undertaken. Depending on how the instructor creates the reflective writing assignments, reflective writing should seek out critical examination of relevant concepts: apply higher order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation, and synthesis; and apply clear and concise business dialect with appropriate grammar. Reflective writing has helped



learners connect theory to practices across disciplines and between academic instruction and workplace realities. Students retain a record of their learning path and learning outcomes, both errors and innovations. As such, we expect our student team members to commit their reflection in writing through both reflection-on-action (the written documentation, including reports and presentations) and reflection-in-action (showing what they know as they are doing it). Carroll (2006) further developed Schns work by explaining the connection between simulation games and reflection. He cited the wide support for role-playing in marketing-related curricula and the associated use of presentations for such simulations, but added that it is crucial to use the presentations in a way that reflective learning can occur; otherwise students will fail to hone and develop these skills further (Carroll, 2006, p. 9). As such, the instructors have adapted Carrolls framework for providing reflective feedback to the students on presentations, based on the areas he called content, code, rules, and style. Although content feedback based on the quality of student reasoning provides traditional responses to the student, the other three areas are equally important but often overlooked. Code metrics assess verbal and nonverbal cues, rules metrics measure adherence to predefined limits set by the instructors, and style metrics assess the more subjective elements of the presentation. By using this framework, the reflective practice becomes a two-way street between the students, reflecting through presentation, and the instructors, providing additional reflection through feedback. Combining Reflective Practice With the Simulation Game Considering the academic support for reflection as a teaching tool both in the literature and in our campuss Principles of Undergraduate Learning, we saw an opportunity to enhance the team experience by incorporating a reflective writing and presentation component. We believe our teams gain their distinct advantage when competing against other university teams because we incorporate these reflective exercises throughout the semester during the in-class competition. Team reflective writing requires students to think beyond the game or even the classroom; team members must reflect on the past and project these deliberations into future decisions. As a team, students examine



tacit assumptions about their team performance, not only verbally in extracurricular team discussions but also in written two-page reports presented to their classmates as yearly company earnings releases. The reports provide a concise team consensus of the results generated by the algorithms in the game, examined through each team members individual role, and the causes and effects of their decisions and those of the rival teams. Without revealing too much to the competition, teams must present sufficient insider information, an interpretation of the facts disclosed, and a reflection of how their individual decisions affected the team outcomes. To further emphasize the connection between theory and practice, students defend each written reflection against the accusations of rival classmates through a second reflection, a PowerPoint presentation that simulates in class a companys executive management team standing before a Wall Street analyst (the instructor) and the board (the classmates). Similar to its written counterpart, the PowerPoint presentation must disclose a reasonable amount of information with explanation without compromising the teams strategy for the next round. However, this reflection must focus less on specific numbers and more on causes for changing market share and industry trends. In this exercise, teams must analyze the overall health of the industry, the role their company plays in industry health, and the effects of such. Through both of these regular reflective exercises, we ask students to show and interpret outcomes in light of their teams strategies, just as we as teachers are often asked to document teaching outcomes in light of teaching objectives. Even if students have an extensive understanding of the business field, many have had no way to test their skills. The simulation provides this opportunity, and the reflective practices further integrate theory and practice. Without reflection on decisions and processes, students have no idea how to improve in future transactions or why they did or did not succeed. We also provide examples and spend class time talking about how real-life management teams manage themselves and make decisions. Without prescribing the method, teams are cautioned that, just as in real life, they must manage themselves, resolve team conflict, and correct faulty management processes. We want student teams to



resolve internal conflicts themselves rather than ask us to intercede. Students are guided to solve team problems by using reflective practices such as reflecting on the teams organizational structure, decision-making processes, and communication styles from the perspective of past and current experiences. Ideally, the adjustments teams make based on their reflection are then incorporated into the written reflections. Assigning regular, guided reflective writing within projects builds team effectiveness in these ways:
Highlighting patterns and origins of error in team decision making Providing practice in team and group writing and collaboration Displaying in documents what has been learned for outcomes or accreditation Connecting business theories to practices Expressing affective responses of team members Improving individual team member self-awareness Showcasing successful and unsuccessful team dynamics

Concomitantly, we find reflective writing works best when it does not describe lower level information, substitute for other genres of writing, or apply an impersonal team voice. Rather, reflective writing is most beneficial to students when it engages higher level cognitive skills to frame experiences into usable real-life applications. Implications of Reflective Writing for Teams Through reflective writing, we enforce an understanding of the strategic theory from the textbook and functional coursework and give teams an opportunity to test themselves, to integrate academic learning and functionality at an enterprise level. The transactional course offers guided instruction with just enough risk for excitement, and reflective writing brings team dynamics into clarity. Students report that the course structure with BSG, critical writing reflections, and presentations of the reflective practice [are] one of the best things that I have done in school, because I feel like I can relate it to outside experiences and that I think this is a great course. It really pulls together everything from all the courses that I have taken. Students like team wins, and we like what they are learning in the process. The benefits of reflective writing are exemplified not only



by the outstanding student evaluations at the end of the course but also by students ability to successfully compete in global contexts. References
Boyd, E. M., & Fales, A. W. (1983). Reflective learning: Key to learning through experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(2), 99-117. Carroll, C. (2006). Enhancing reflective learning through role-plays: The use of an effective sales presentation evaluation form in student role-plays. Marketing Education Review, 16(1), 9-13. GLO-BUS Software. (2008). Business Strategy Game. Retrieved June 6, 2008, from http:// Schn, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith. Thompson, A. A., Strickland, A. J., & Gamble, J. E. (2007). Crafting and executing strategy: The quest for competitive advantage (15th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin. Katherine V. Wills is an assistant professor who teaches business and technical writing. She serves as the ABC liaison to the Modern Language Association. Her coedited (with Scott and Longo) Critical Power Tools: Technical Communication and Cultural Studies won the National Council of Teachers of English award for best collection on technical and scientific writing. Address correspondence to Kathy Wills, Indiana University Purdue University at Columbus, 4601 Central Ave., CC151, Columbus, IN 47203-1769; email: Thomas A. Clerkin, assistant professor of management, teaches graduate and undergraduate capstone courses in business policy, strategic human resources, leadership, career success, and entrepreneurship. He has completed a 33-year career in human resources as corporate vice president of organizational and leadership development for a $7 billion global auto parts manufacturer. Address correspondence to Thomas Clerkin, Indiana University Purdue University at Columbus, 4601 Central Ave., CC140, Columbus, IN 47203-1769; email:


Randolph T. Barker Robert H. Stowers
Virginia Commonwealth University College of William and Mary
DOI: 10.1177/1080569909334560

WHAT DO TEAMS, writing, time, technology, and critiques have in common? If you said they all have the letter t in them, you were correct. There can be so much more, though, when we connect each of