You enter a classroom. Instead of desks, a virtual workplace is laid out in front of you, including assembly lines, and banks of screens running simulations on your team’s work process. You’ve been chosen by leadership to run an operation, and it’s not working well. What happens next for you and 12-36 colleagues? Everything goes wrong. “You can’t just teach problem solving. Everything must be intentionally aligned,” says Pendaran VP and co-founder Carol Michaelides. “It takes more than teaching…. People get so into optimizing their station they forget to optimize the whole.”
Pendaran is a consulting firm near Ann Arbor that helps teams from software companies to the Department of Defense to manufacturers retrain in systems thinking to learn how each individual’s decisions affect company operations. Before the training is over, which includes embedded roleplaying coaches to help them along (or put the pressure on) and debriefings where managers only ask questions, teams have learned all kinds of things about their own workflow process at an accelerated speed. Eight-hour processes are condensed into 30 minutes.
Carol Michaelides’ career, which includes serving as advisor to senior management at Ford Motor Company and Ford Motor Credit, as Sr. Vice President of Comshare, and as adjunct professor of System Thinking at the University of Detroit Mercy, has focused on systems thinking and leveraging human capital for better business strategy. “Without an appreciation of an entire system, no one can be as effective as they’d like,” Carol says. “This program transforms culture to support problem solving…. We originally built this program inside Ford, and then built it out to help others. How do you take your experience and then allow other people to experience it?” The Pendaran training program is specifically designed to leverage human capital in an organization to help teams appreciate the importance of decisions made in each individual role, and how they fit into the larger picture of an organization.
“We took the experience of thousands of people in manufacturing and created scenarios and simulated it into an accelerated virtual program,” Carol says. “People must see the system to understand its components and be effective…. Failures happen because of an inability to work as a company, not because of a product.”
The philosophy behind Pendaran is based on the MIT “Beer Game” that creates systems thinking-based scenarios to help teams learn with hands-on experience. People get a feel of the power of the system, Carol says. They go to the factory and see all the issues preventing them from getting orders on time. “We have an online game that allows us to get fundamental systems thinking in at the beginning of our program.” The situation is high-pressure. People often start out pointing fingers at each other, then at managers, then realize they have the power to make decisions that change the outcome for the entire process. This is because of the accelerated process that helps them see the entire process at once, and also because students are embedded in the learning simulation instead of being taught theories and processes abstractly.
“The learning systems we’ve evolved are not working as well as they need to,” Carol says, “especially for adult learners. Kids’ education is changing to experience-based learning. We are going from the age of knowledge to the age of experience.” Carol says Pendaran is working to create a library of human experience and expertise, much like a library collects knowledge in books. The next virtual workplace training takes place next week starting July 22, 2019, followed by other sessions in October and November. You can learn more about the program here.