Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner - the most original thinker in creativity & innovation today

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Team Role Play


Team role playing is an excellent exercise for…

  • Testing and prototyping new service ideas.
  • Devising innovative sales techniques.
  • Developing innovative customer service techniques.
  • Problem solving - particularly with respect to internal communications, service delivery and human resources.

How it works

Role playing is when a group of people act out roles for a particular scenario. For instance, you might train sales people by having two people act out a sale-scenario. One acts as the sales person. The other acts as the customer. This allows trainee sales people to practice their sales techniques. A trainer and/or other trainees may watch the role play and critique it afterwards.

Team role-playing is similar, except that two or more teams actively participate. For instance, a group of 10 people and one trainer are divided into two teams of five each. One person in each group acts out the relevant role in the scenario. The other four act as coaches providing advice to their actor. The trainer does not take part in either group. Rather she oversees the exercise. To make team role playing more effective, a secret conflict is introduced from the beginning. Only the trainer is aware of the conflict. Upon completion of the role playing, the trainer leads a discussion on the role-play.

Example: a software company learns that customers are unhappy with customer support and this is causing a loss of customers. In order to improve customer support, the company decides to use team role playing. A trainer brings together a group of 12 software developers and customer support representatives.

The trainer introduces the problem and encourages an open discussion in order to put all the relevant issues on the table and get participants thinking about the problem in depth prior to the team role playing.

While discussion is still relatively lively, the trainer interrupts, divides the participants into two groups. Participants should be randomly assigned to groups, such as by having each person pulling a paper, indicating group membership, out of a hat. It is important that the participants do not divide themselves into groups. Getting people who do not normally work together to do so creates new synergies which should promote greater creative thinking.

Group A (playing the role of a customer support person) receives a card which states:

"This customer is very influential. To lose them would be highly damaging to the company. You must do anything within reason to retain them"

Group B (playing the role of the customer) receives a card stating:

"You have seriously overspent your software budget and while you are not unhappy with the product, you must convince the customer support person to take back the product and refund your money. Since you cannot admit the actual situation (as it would clearly not be legitimate for a refund), you must find problems with the software sufficient to legitimise the return and refund."

The groups meet separately for five to ten minutes to discuss strategy and who will be the actor. Then the two actors go to the centre of the room to perform the role play. At any time during the role play, the actors can look to their teams for advice. Likewise teams can offer unsolicited advice. Normally the teams are physically separated from their actors. However, each team can call one "time out" to have a private discussion of strategy.

In a lively role-play, a team member may very well offer advice to the actor of the other team. There is nothing wrong with this and the trainer should not prohibit it, although the teams themselves may do so.

Eventually, a solution of some sort will be found. If the conflict is not apparent to both sides and there is still sufficient enthusiasm in the teams, the trainer may ask the teams to find another solution.

Once it is clear no more solutions are to be found, the groups are brought together and discuss the role play, their strategies, their solution, relevance to real world situations, and alternative solutions.

Optionally, each team can draft a short "lessons learned" paper about the role play. The papers can be combined an copies distributed to all role play participants and any other staff who might learn from the role play.

In a situation similar to the example, there would probably be several team role playing sessions with different people and different conflicts. In addition, some conflicts would be specific to the company's product or procedures.

Hire Jeffrey to design and facilitate Team Role play and individual Role Play workshops with you and your team. Contact Jeffrey to discuss your needs or get a quote.



© 2001 Jeffrey Baumgartner

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Jeffrey is also the co-founder of The Brussels Imagination Club. Meet him there on the 2nd & 4th Wednesdays of the month.


j p b . c o m

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium