A short while ago my fellow lecturer Michiel van Dijk and I were invited by a Dutch development bank to host a real-life simulation game at the so-called SOS Conference. An exciting annual event bringing together more than fifty turnaround and workout specialists affiliated to top-level development banks from around the globe, with participants flying in from Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia. Place to be: Hammamet, Tunisia. The question was, as always, clear and simple: develop an exciting turnaround gameplay, based on a true turnaround story, that challenges experienced restructuring professionals. Moreover, excite them and further train their turnaround management and workout skills.
The game, that lasted three rounds with an overnight negotiation process, culminated in an early morning breakfast meeting at which all parties – local and international lenders, company management, consulting firms and employee representatives including unions – came together at the negotiation table. And all this on the sunny terrace of the chique Russelior Hotel. As the clock was ticking the tension mounted. Parties worried about reaching an agreement, as at first nobody really wanted to budge. Until… the ‘employees and unions’ started a protest strike (much to the puzzlement of the other hotel guests) with a fascinating and loud spectacle as a result. As bankruptcy was looming, luckily the parties finally came to an agreement. And with that the company was rescued (just remember: the game was played by bankers only).
All’s well that ends well.
Looking back, the Tunisian experience once again shows how powerful serious gaming can be in learning environments and in what a mesmerizing way games sometimes come close to reality. In the current international debate about the role of restructuring bankers in times of crisis (see e.g. the so-called Tomlinson report in the UK) it is interesting to study what the dynamics of workout negotiations really comprise. And serious gaming proves to be an interesting research instrument for that. What happens when bankers, albeit in a game, suddenly become managers and managers become bankers at the same time? Do they take different decisions given their personal backgrounds? Do they really have different attitudes? Is it then nurture or nature that makes bankers or managers behave the way they do? Or is it the context that predicts specific decision making by bankers or managers? All interesting questions that are on top of the research agenda of the Turnaround, Rescue, Insolvency research team (TRI-Leiden) at Leiden Law School. Apart from that, it is simply interesting and irresistible to observe bankers in a protest march against bankers…