Belgacom is convinced that in complex environments, enhanced performance and efficiency can no longer be achieved only through expertise or knowledge of processes; the focus is now on developing behavioral skills. As Martine Frébutte, Director of Belgacom Corporate University, explains: “The human factor is essential to us, and this means we’re very concerned about the professional and personal development of our team members. This is why we feel it’s vital to take the emotional dimension of professional relationships into account”.
There are 1.750 team leaders among the group’s 17.000 staff. A range of training tools oriented towards behavioral skills were made available for them to use in traditional classroom training, e-learning, and tutor-led settings. But these resources didn’t focus enough on interpersonal skills: “After these courses, although staff were familiar with the basic principles of interpersonal skills, they continued to concentrate on targets and figures and laid insufficient emphasis on the human aspect”, says Martine Frébutte. “We felt we had to launch a new initiative focusing on interpersonal issues”.
Serious Games: a bridge between training and professional experience
Aware of the success of Serious Games in both higher education and corporate settings in the US, Belgacom decided to develop a third-generation Serious Game for team leaders, in collaboration with CrossKnowledge. Not only was this decision in line with the group’s strategy to engage in “Entertainment and Beyond”, it was also motivated by other factors such as a desire to put team members in situations where active listening, assertiveness and leadership are at a premium. “Although role plays had their uses, they were too brief to teach us lessons that could later be applied in the field”, says Martine Frébutte. The group was also eager to anticipate training needs by testing a method that would be likely to attract tomorrow’s talents: in other words, “Generation Y”.
The launch of the game, and of the full accompanying package, was announced in January 2011 at a conference attended by all the team leaders involved. As Martine Frébutte says, “a game can’t be approached like an ordinary training course. Learners really have to engage with the game over a period of time”. To promote this collective experiment, special care was taken over the communication plan that was to support the project. Senior management was given a sneak preview before the game was presented to the teams, and the team leaders then received their passwords by e-mail and a range of tools and resources were made available to them: user guides in the form of playing cards, e-learning modules to help people learn the rules of the game, and special lunchtime sessions.
Games as a vector for interpersonal exchange
This particular game takes the form of fifteen half-hour sessions. Wherever he or she happens to be, at whatever time of day, the player can log in to the portal, enter a password, and use his or her avatar to experience situations inspired by their work. As the sessions progress, the player has to deal with people who have a range of different profiles: some are cooperative, some are skeptical, while some are downright hostile. Decisions have to be made during each session; when this happens, there are three options open to the player. To ensure continuity with respect to his or her own experience, the player is asked to take on real-life tasks. “For example, after five sessions”, explains Martine Frébutte, “the player is given the task of persuading two team leaders who haven’t started playing yet to get involved”. These tasks are a way of ensuring that team members are talking to each other about the game, and that it moves beyond the virtual stage and into real life. Moreover, although the game is played individually, Belgacom made sure it defined 32 sub-groups of 60 players who are as varied as possible in terms of age, role, and rank. When they log on, players access their own profiles and can also see what game level each member of the same sub-group has reached, which encourages them to talk to people they would otherwise have no contact with.
Assessing leadership profiles
During the sessions, players can access their “scores” via the portal. There are no right or wrong answers; instead the game seeks to establish the player’s profile according to criteria such as how open they are to others, how forward-looking they are, how well they manage their emotions, and so on. To help them make the most of this information, players are given a brochure detailing the criteria and outlining the various leadership profiles.
The HR department has access to operational data on the participants that shows which stage they have reached and their “scores”, and also provides an overall snapshot of the company’s leadership profile. The game enables each participant to identify his or her strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement in terms of leadership and teamwork. Extra training modules are offered to players once the game is over, so that they can develop their skills in the areas they have identified. As further proof of the success of the initiative, Belgacom intends to use the technology to develop new Serious Games with a view to training other groups of learners.