See inside our Melbourne Knowledge Week boardroom simulation
As part of Melbourne Knowledge Week, we invited everyday people to take part in a real-world boardroom challenge – and streamed it to the world.
Titled A board game, literally, the simulation highlighted the often-difficult path that board members tread when trying to meet obligations to shareholders as well as the broader community.
"I didn't actually know what I was getting myself into, to be honest," said Anna Dai, a dentist at the Royal Flying Doctor Service and a suburban Melbourne clinic.
"I walked in just expecting to be a spectator, but not necessarily being right there in the thick of it."
The "thick of it" was a scenario involving fictitious paper-product company Roll With It, who had received news that a competitor was dumping illegal levels of toxins into the waterways. Participants had to debate whether or not to use the information for their own advantage.
"It was very enlightening just to see different perspectives that board members brought for consideration," said another first-time board member Marina Zhang, a senior project manager at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions in Victoria.
The on-campus and online event proved an eye-opener for those who took part – both experienced and inexperienced board members alike.
"I thought it was terrific," said Richard Dammery, a member of the public who sits on the boards of Aussie Broadband, Nexus Hospitals, Creative Partnerships and other companies.
"I thought some of the younger people, who hadn't had board experience, listened carefully and then made very insightful comments at the right time. It was really good."
Melbourne Business School Dean, Internal, Caron Beaton-Wells, said the event showcased the School's role in bringing business and the wider community together.
"Melbourne Knowledge Week is the city's annual festival of ideas. So, for the Melbourne Business School, it is an amazing opportunity to be involved, given our mission is to unleash ideas and leaders for a sustainable future."
Event organiser Jo Stavers and her team spent hours developing the scenario, securing the involvement of academics and experienced board members, and giving our technicians time to make sure everything ran smoothly.
"We had over 200 people join us on the night – about 50 who physically came to Carlton and sat around our fictitious boardroom tables, and another 170 or so who tuned in to the livestream from countries as far as Malaysia, Ireland and Finland."
Engagement at the event was high, with about three-quarters of participants actively taking part – which pleased Merran Kelsall, President and Board Chair of CPA Australia, who chaired one of the simulated board meetings.
"You know, to have these simulations means you're helping explain what it is that boards do and the important work that it is," she said.
With more twists and turns in the Roll With It story being revealed throughout the night, the discussions were intense and at times passionate.
"It's a situation that I've seen a couple of times in my corporate life, and I thought it was very realistic. Both in terms of the simulation and the board dynamics," Richard said.
Marina agreed: "I imagine most board experiences wouldn't be quite as entertaining or as jovial, but probably just as thought-provoking. It wasn't just learning about the theory, but experiencing it in a really interactive and stimulating way."
Richard was particularly impressed by the different perspectives that participants without board experience brought to the discussion.
"As a couple of the people said in the room: 'When you've got diversity around the table, in any board context, you're always learning.'
"I think there's going to be a generational shift, and, when it comes, we're going to see things done quite differently," he said.
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