Tried & tested: Learning from experience

Boardroom simulation
Designed by: Durham Business School, University of Durham, Mill Hill Lane, Durham, DH1 3LB
Phone: 0191 334 5200
Fax: 0191 334 52013

To succeed in business, employees need to develop their people skills as well as understand the theory of management. Employers have often complained that MBA graduates lack these soft skills. But Durham Business School, part of the University of Durham, believes it has found the answer.

The Durham Boardroom Simulation is a unique feature of their full-time MBA course, designed to deliver core learning in a relevant and multi-disciplinary way.

George Copus, a semi-retired international banker and business adviser to the MBA course, says: “The difference is in its practical approach.”

With the support of academic staff and senior executives of real companies, students organise themselves into a shadow board of directors, dealing with real issues and agreeing on solutions, just like a real board of directors. Rebecca Stratling, deputy director of the full-time MBA, says that students benefit from this applied, integrated approach to their studies.

“It changed their attitude to the parts of the course they found less interesting, because they could see the relevance and the application of their learning rather than just being a module they had to pass to get the qualification,” she says.

Delivered for the first time this year, the simulation required considerable planning. “We wanted to combine the acquisition and application of soft skills and analytical, problem-solving skills,” Stratling says. “We succeeded because we had the right people; we involved a panel of business people from the start; and we carried out very detailed planning.”

Learners can be resistant to the idea of role play, and Stratling felt it was important to introduce the concept of the simulation right from the start, so that students were prepared and understood its value.

Steve Prior, a student on the Durham Business School MBA programme, says: “There’s such a lot that’s great about this programme, but the simulation was good. Some students had never attended a board meeting before, so it was good experience.”

The simulation is made as realistic as possible. Students follow the fortunes of a real company and take on specific roles, such as managing director and director of human resources.

With 61 students from 26 countries, the board is as multicultural as any international business. By sourcing appropriate information and learning about a real board’s decision-making processes, the students develop their own skills by facing the same challenges as a real company.

Copus says: “MBA students are usually good at analysis and research, but this introduces them to the practical needs of a business.”
Working as a shadow board gives students the chance to develop their team working, communication and social skills with support from business executives and academic staff.

Stratling says: “Executive’s involved in the Durham Business Simulation were keen to make a contribution. Each executive was assigned to a group of students, but they wanted to make an impact on all the groups.

“They met the students in the second week of the course, and then at 10 weeks, and were impressed with the speed of [their] development. Many kept up regular weekly e-mails and telephone contact with the students.”

The students share this perspective. Prior says: “We had a very experienced senior executive supporting our group. I was chief executive of my group, so I kept up the contact with the [real] executive. Relations were very cordial, responses came very quickly, and he made lots of helpful suggestions.


“Many students are still in contact with their executives, and projects and dissertation ideas have come out of it.”

Students gained from working in a realistic manner and experiencing some of the subtleties of interpersonal communication.

“Students learned that attention to detail is important, that the board is affected by atmosphere and that certain types of presentation, for example, may not be useful for decision making,” says Stratling.

Prior adds: “The chance to put your case to a panel that may be thinking about risk management rather than your adventurous idea was a really useful experience.” This is echoed by Copus. “The board meetings brought them face to face with a crabby old chairman like me, asking them why they hadn’t made progress.”

Involvement with the real world of business included performance assessments. Executives were invited to comment briefly on how students had done, and then discussed their views with academic staff, who relayed more detailed feedback to the students.

This MBA qualification aims to combine academic rigour with the need to ‘get real’.


“The Durham Boardroom Simulation will produce a well-rounded student who can move into a business and feel comfortable,” says Steve Prior, MBA student at Durham.

  • Ability to meet business needs – five out of five – excellent
  • Impact  – four out of five
  • Ease of use – two out of five

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