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Scrimmaging vs. Role-playing

Sep 1, 2021

Posted by

Nathan Jamail

Nathan Jamail, President of the Jamail Development Group and author of "The Sales Leaders Playbook," is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. As a former Executive Director for Spr Read more

Ask any audience at a training session or workshop if there is anyone that loves to role-play, and guess what the answer might be?  Usually one person or maybe two, out of hundreds, raise their hands (that is a big maybe).  At one particular workshop, a young lady raised her hand and said, “It depends, are we talking at home or at the office?”  After everyone had a good laugh, it was clarified “at the office”-in the sense of practicing a conversation or preparing for a meeting of some sort. She quickly lowered her hand and said “Uh, no, not me.”

Professional athletes and actors scrimmage or practice before every game or performance.  They would never get on the field or take the stage without practicing or scrimmaging their plays or parts. That is the difference between role-playing and scrimmaging in business.  In business we use role-playing as a test, like a pop quiz in school.  Most of us did not like pop quizzes in school and we don’t like them as adults either.  The basic difference can be found in the reason why we are doing them.  One is done to prepare a person (scrimmage) and the other is to judge a person (role-play).

How much better would any meeting, appointment or even a basic greeting go if we practiced it 4 or 5 times before we actually had that meeting?  Most likely we could all say 100 percent better. Increasing results in any professional job or environment can be done if leaders and players are willing to scrimmage before taking the field.

The biggest difference between scrimmaging and role-playing is the intent.  Let’s break down the intent.

Judge vs. Prepare

Role-playing is used to judge so the participants are focused on being great or ‘perfect’ and unwilling to try something new.  When this happens, we are doing the same thing we have always done which does not allow for growth and limits impact.  

Scrimmaging is used to try new and sometimes crazy ideas.  A time to test yourself and prepare without the fear of making a mistake.  Make mistakes and make them often.  While you are making mistakes- learn.

Reaction vs. Action

Role-playing is typically used to correct a behavior or to gage any new behaviors.  Role-playing is implemented as a reaction to someone or something (usually stemming from a negative situation) causing a person to feel unprepared or insecure in their position or ability.   

Scrimmaging is implemented as an action that prepares a person for an event or activity that has not yet happened.  Scrimmaging  helps people prepare therefore they are more confident for when the event does happen.    

New Hires vs. All Hires

Role-playing is usually reserved for those participants in some type of training, whether it is a new hire training or some annual workshop for all employees at a certain level.  If done more frequently, it may also be implemented to help those employees that are struggling to become better. Therefore it is viewed as a consequence to one’s inability or lack of experience, causing many (regardless of title) to feel that they hope to get so good they no longer have to role play.

Scrimmaging is implemented with all employees.  So when they do go to training or workshops they are not learning how to role-pla,y rather they are learning how to be better at the skill they are learning.  Because scrimmaging is done before events or as preparation, those who are most successful are scrimmaging even more because they typically have more going on (and know the true value of scrimmaging).  They come to understand that no matter how good they may be, they can always get better, and that their actions are proving it.

Required vs. Recommended

Role-playing is employed in many businesses today.  It is something that leaders recommend but do not actually mandate.  Just like our kids, when we are given the choice to not do something we don’t like, we will find every excuse in the book why we can’t, whether it is ‘we don’t have time.’ ‘too busy,’ ‘customer issues,’ or anything else our business can throw at us.  This is also why we make New Year’s resolutions every year and we keep writing the same goals over and over.  The fact is we are just like our kids—the only difference is there is no one to ground us.

Scrimmaging must be mandatory for the employees and the leaders.  Professional athletes don’t have a choice.  Heck our kids in little league don’t have a choice.  You must practice or you will not play.  Leaders who are going to implement scrimmaging into their culture need to realize that it only it works if it is mandatory.

Final thoughts:

A good friend of mine was giving me advice on dealing with my daughters and how to prepare for the curve balls life will throw at you as a parent.  He said, “One of the hardest parts of parenting older kids is dealing with terrible news or actions from them.  To help with your initial response when this happens; think of the worst thing you think your daughter can tell you (the absolute worst), and practice the first 5 words of your response, because most likely it will be the most important part of your response.  Even more importantly-the unprepared initial response is most likely the worst response.”

I love that advice and I share it with you to remember that just like being a good parent, or even a good person, it is about preparing for situations and not being afraid to be vulnerable in front of our teams.  Many times as leaders we don’t role-play or mandate scrimmages because we are afraid that our teams will find out we are not as good as they may think we are.  It is OK for our teams to know that we, as leaders, also make mistakes and learn.  In fact you will find that you will also get better.  (No, sorry, you are not as good as you think you are. -None of us are.)  And your making mistakes will give the team the confidence they will need to challenge themselves, make mistakes and grow.