You may have heard of Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures—you know it’s very well regarded and people highly recommend it. But do you know how it works and why it might be useful to you?
Ecotonos is for people engaged in intercultural affairs—both those who have not had significant experience collaborating in a multicultural context and also for those who wish to analyze and further develop their abilities. Ecotonos can be used with both domestic and international multicultural groups to help participants develop skills and strategies for participating effectively in multicultural environments—for sharing information, making decisions, managing projects, building community, working in and leading teams, resolving conflict, and creating solutions.
Designed to be used with between eight and fifty participants, Ecotonos requires at least ninety minutes to conduct: forty-five minutes for the simulation itself, and another 45 for the debriefing. While this is longer than some simulations, it is an investment well worth making. Rather than just experiencing cultural differences, Ecotonos helps participants learn to observe how they make decisions and solve problems, and helps them develop skills and strategies for working more effectively across differences. The simulation can also be used several times—each time feeling like a different game—so that participants can hone their abilities.
Simulation participants create their own cultures using a set of rule cards provided. Rules are relatively ambiguous, so participants are free to create cultures with which they are comfortable. Following the agreed-upon rules for their culture, participants create a myth symbolizing their culture, often a creation myth. Time is then allowed for participants to become familiar with their new culture (acculturation), before they begin work on the same assigned task (build a bridge, design a neighborhood…) or case study within their own cultural group. Shortly thereafter, the groups mix (according to a prearranged plan) and participants continue their work—while maintaining their own cultural rules and behaviors. Of course, as in all simulations, the debriefing is the most important part of the activity, as that is where we make sense of what we have experienced—where the learning occurs. Ecotonos‘ debriefing is unique in that learners chart, graph or draw the process they used, an extremely powerful method that reveals how cultural traits and values were utilized or ignored, how information was shared and decisions were made.
Ecotonos is an extremely rich simulation because participants engage in a dynamic experience that vividly illustrates the strengths and limits of collaboration across cultures. It can be played multiple times with the same group for developmental learning since there is no “trick” to the game; this enables participants to practice and improve their collaborative abilities; a different task or case study can be used each time Ecotonos is conducted, along with different rule cards, which makes each play a unique experience.
In 2015, in a study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management (Vol. 26, No. 15, pages 1995-2014) by Joost JLE Bücker and Hubert Korzilius, the researchers found that “Ecotonos increases the ability to reflect on cross-cultural interactions, and stimulates interest in intercultural behavior and practicing cross-cultural relevant behavior.”
Ecotonos comes with an instruction manual (facilitator guide), cultural name buttons, 30 sets of rule cards, three case studies and three team tasks—all in a small, hard plastic case for easy transport. The detailed and extensive facilitator guide includes set-up, process, and debrief instructions to complete the simulation in two hours; explanation of the intercultural theory inherent in the simulation; full instructions for using the various handouts on intercultural collaboration; and sections on adapting Ecotonos to a variety of cultures and situations.
One of the best aspects of Ecotonos is that it’s so affordable. You can have hundreds of executives or students play this simulation for years, sharing it between departments, for the one-time investment of US$249. Want to know more? Please contact Cultural Detective via email or telephone +1-913-901-0243, or order it via our website. Together with your help we can build the intercultural competence that is so sorely lacking in our world today!