Strategy Wargaming What is it and how can it help your business?

Strategy wargaming originated around 5,000 years ago in ancient China where skilled warlords created intellectual challenges to test the strategic thinking of their military subordinates. These exercises became games such as "Wei-Hai", and "Go", and "Chess".

It was at this time that Sun Tsu, a General from the state of Ch’i, wrote 'The Art of War", sharing thoughts and proverbs on strategy. Such has been the longevity of this thinking that Sun Tsu is repeatedly quoted in books on business strategy.

Soon after, the ancient Greeks begin playing "Petteia", a game developed to hone strategic thinking and test the decision making of future leaders.

These games, in various forms, survived through the ages, but it was in the 19th Century that modern wargaming was born. Based around the thinking of Carl von Clausewitz and the subsequent exercises of Georg von Reisswitz, the Prussian military used wargaming as a way to develop strategic thinking and leadership capability.

It was a training policy that was to propel them to the top of their profession.

In 1870 Prussia went to war with mighty France, defeating one of the most formidable military forces in the world in a mere 5 months. The world was shocked.

Realising the part that wargaming had played in the Prussian success, many other countries developed their own wargaming credentials and embedded wargaming as a key part of their military strategy process.

By the 20th Century wargaming was still restricted to the military, but as industrialised business models and economies developed much of the language of the military began to be seen in commercial circles. Now businesses too had 'strategies', launched 'campaigns', handled complex 'logistics', fought price 'battles' and created a culture that became all about keeping one step ahead of any rivals.

In the latter half of the twentieth century the principles of wargaming were applied to the commercial world where a recognition that planning a campaign, marshalling scarce resources and the creative use of reconnaissance to keep one step ahead of the opposition is every bit as valid in the modern business environment as it was in the days of empire.

The modern business strategy wargame brings this military tradition to a new sphere, creating a low risk environment in which leaders and teams can test their strategy, challenge their assumptions, and develop their leaders.

Strategy wargames are typically team activities, created with the purpose of exploring a potential future and strengthening strategy. Whilst one team makes decisions for the host organisation other teams take on the roles of competitors, key suppliers, or other external organisations relevant to the scenario. Seeing your business through the eyes of its competitors gives a unique insight.

Held together by a team of skilled facilitators, the teams interact to create a narrative that presents a plausible and realistic picture of the future.

Wargames will typically run over one or more days, and start with a briefing and planning phase in which teams come together to determine their strategy and establish their goals. This typically grows from a SWOT analysis, an existing business plan or similar analysis of the current situation. The possible actions of other teams is considered.

Definitions of success generate meaningful dialogue.

Plans are formulated.

Once underway the wargame itself follows a cycle. The facilitators, also known as umpires, provide teams with updates on the emerging situation, including team or market specific information. Armed with this information teams have a limited period of time to take decisions.

Information is presented according to participant roles and responsibilities. Just as in real life, teams work to pursue their strategic intent in a dynamic landscape. Team members make decisions, negotiate with other teams where needed and take actions that move them closer to their objectives.

Teams respond to the dynamic environment they create.

What emerges is a rich timeline of realistic actions and consequences.

As with armies in on the field of battle, the best outcomes can often be achieved when teams have a clear vision, a robust strategy, good planning, clear communications, flexible thinking and show excellent teamwork.

Energy and leadership really matters.

What players experience is a form of time travel allowing them to reach into the future to see the potential consequences of today's actions. Mistakes can be avoided and new opportunities can be identified.

The learning is deep. Feedback from these sessions is consistently excellent.

Wargames close with two facilitated debrief sessions. One 'hot' debrief takes place immediately on the close of the main wargaming session, engaging participants whilst they are still in character and 'in the zone'. The second, known as the 'cold' debrief, is held at a later date when everyone has had a chance to reflect on their learning and review the timeline and outputs from the event.

These debrief sessions allow discussion and integration of the learning, as well as providing a framework to allow outputs to be turned into actions. This can subsequently lead to 'deep dives' into some of the most crucial areas brought to light, allowing a focussed scrutiny of assumptions and beliefs.

The outcome is that strategy is tested, reshaped and strengthened. Previously unidentified risks are highlighted and mitigated.

But wargames also offer more than that.

They build confidence, develop leaders and breed success.

They bond teams and generate engagement.

They improve strategic vision and purpose and promote wider market awareness, bringing key aspects into sharp focus.

They allow you to challenge your assumptions and create new ways of thinking.

They allow talent to shine.

They reveal blindspots in your thinking.

And they offer a strong return on investment.

The multiple lenses of a wargaming approach will help your business develop a clear vision of the future and manage the strategic risks identified.

It's an approach that can help your people be at their best.

At Poppyfish we can help you design and deliver a strategy wargame to suit your business. We'd love to help you make your first steps in strategy wargaming and unlock your best future.

Contact us today


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