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V&D bankrupt? ILLP-students to the rescue!

On 11 and 19 April, the International Leiden Leadership Programme students got together to participate in a Business Game: a simulation game where the participants get a business case-study they have to solve. The goal? An agreement between all stakeholders – but most importantly: to employ the different leadership skills they learned during the ILLP.

It’s 17.00 hrs on Thursday 19 April. The ILLP students, divided in five different groups of stakeholders such as V&D management, the suppliers, and the labour union have until 19.00 hrs to come to an agreement about saving the former Dutch department store V&D from bankruptcy. Lecturer, and fellow developer of the Business Game for Leiden University, Lucas Noordhoorn gives a brief introduction. Not long thereafter he gives the floor to the group of students whom are employed as consultants and are tasked with leading the negotiations. The clock starts ticking: now it’s up to the students.

From chaos to understanding

In the first meeting the negotiations were heated and a bit chaotic, explain students Lorena and Jeroen. 'Last time, everybody just jumped in and wanted to win the discussion', Jeroen laughs, shaking his head. 'But we really tried to learn from the mistakes of the last session and to have a more win-win mentality this time round.' Lorena agrees. ‘This time, everybody tried to keep calm and tried to apply more of the skills we learned in the ILLP. Also, the group that had to lead the negotiation applied a much better structure this time.’

Reflecting

The idea that students become more aware of the skills they could have employed  during the first session - such as negotiation and communication skills -, is part of the Business Game strategy. ‘In the first meeting, we leave the students to come up with their own strategy on the spot’, Noordhoorn explains. ‘And often we see they forget to apply most of what they have learnt. By reflecting on the game at the end of each session students become aware of the results of their approach.’

The Business Game presents the students with a business negotiation-model on a smaller scale, but close to reality. ‘Suddenly, the students need to take on a very adult way of negotiating’, Noordhoorn says. ‘This simulation forces them to ask questions such as: who am I dealing with? How can I approach this person? How can I reach a compromise?’

Deadlines, deadlines

It’s 18:45 hrs, only fifteen minutes left until the deadline. Notes with important messages are being passed around, students disappear to backrooms to have a final discussion and all the negotiation points are written on the board. Even though everybody feels the pressure, the discussion is mature and structured. At one point, when the discussion seems to go into too much detail, one of the suppliers intervenes. ‘Let’s agree on the big picture first’, he says calmly. A smart decision – it is clear the students learned a lot from these sessions.

Have we reached an agreement?

It’s 18:55 hrs when the group of consultants speaks the magic words: ‘Have we reached an agreement?’ The answer is a full-hearted yes. The students are relieved: if it were up to them, V&D would not have gone bankrupt. After a well-deserved dinner, the students reflect on the sessions, their skills and themselves. Lorena says the thing they all seem to agree upon: 'This Business Game is one of the most fun things we have done in the ILLP.'

(Maxime Geervliet)

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