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Liberation – team/leadership simulation exercise


Liberation - multimedia CDrom
Produced by: Sandstone Ltd, Sandstone House, High Street, Tarporley, Cheshire CW6 0AB Tel: 01829 733669
CD-rom software programme
Price: £1,495 for first copy; £395 for 5-day rental, £175 for one-off use

Simulation style activities have fallen somewhat out of favour over the last few years. There are several reasons for this: many trainers perceive them as requiring too much time (usually at least half a day), they can be complex to manage, they take a lot of preparation, and the outcomes are sometimes difficult to transfer back as learning points into real life. Despite these difficulties, this reviewer remains a fan of both role plays and simulations for the potential they have to recreate situations in which participants' thoughts, attitudes and behaviours are made visible, and where genuine reflection and learning can take place.

Management and team development activities have often used simulation style activities, either indoors or outdoors. They are popular with some teams for their interest and engagement, hated by others who feel they have to perform, sometimes under difficult circumstances. Introducing a new simulation product into this marketplace is therefore fraught with potential hazards.

This is the task which Sandstone undertook when it decided to launch the Liberation exercise, previously used with company clients, as a commercial product. One obvious benefit of this approach is that the activity has been well and truly tested with real participants, and this is evident in the depth of detail generated by the exercise. Transferring the whole exercise to a CD-rom format makes it innovative and accessible, though it also means that some aspects of the process inevitably appear stilted and mechanical.

Liberation creates a live and dramatic scenario to which team participants must respond in real time. An animal rights group has taken a number of hostages, and the task of the participants is to secure their safe release through their individual and collective actions and negotiations. At the heart of the simulation is a dialogue between the terrorist group (played by the computer programme itself) and the team participants. Along the way, various external events are introduced randomly (also by the computer programme) which both influence events and create new material. As the introduction to the game states, anyone expecting a glorified PlayStation or arcade game is in for a disappointment: this programme relies upon a simple graphical interface. Communication between the main parties is by paper and fax (requiring a printer to be attached to the computer). These communications need to be studied in real time by the participants who must then choose what action to take; the realism of the whole activity is heightened by the unpredictability of timing over the receipt of these faxes – and, of course, their content.

The activity is designed in four modules which can be run individually or in sequence depending on the aims of the session and the amount of time available. The authors suggest an absolute minimum of 30 minutes (I would recommend 90 minutes) with the potential to run sessions over a day or longer. The primary outcomes of the simulation are leadership and team development, with a strong element of communications and relationship skills inevitably coming through. The activity will accommodate up to 12 participants.

Whilst the simulation employs the computer and printer as the hostage takers, this is not an activity played around the screen. The real action occurs in the group who must discuss what to do and take appropriate action in response to the events as they unfold. It is these group dynamics which provide the scope for individual and team learning. As with all such activities, at least as much time must be devoted to de-briefing the process as running it. Using observers or recording parts of the team meetings will aid the debriefing considerably.

The on-disk documentation is considerable. A tutor's area allows the trainer to set various parameters for the simulation and provides extensive notes. There are quite lengthy briefing notes for the participants which need to be read in advance. They will need to be printed off. For the first time user, it's difficult to get a quick easy overview of the whole activity. A minimum of two hours advance exploration is required before the depth and capability of the product can be appreciated; it is this factor which may deter some trainers looking for a quick solution. And the price will also be a deterrent unless you intend to use the product several times – the rental/one-off option may be a preferred first choice. A 30-day watermarked demonstration copy of the full product is available from Sandstone.


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