Participants play a role in a complex production distribution system for 50 weeks in the course of 1.5 to 2 hours. Although the game can accommodate from 8 to 400 players, the average group size is 30. The game is played in teams, with each team having between 4 and 8 members playing on a single game board. The game begins with each player anteing up one dollar that goes into a pool to be awarded to the team with the lowest cost at the end of the game. This approach fosters the idea that the players are a team and that, like the real world, they have competitors. Although participants will start out as a team as the game progresses, pressures grow and players mental models about what is going on around them kicks in and they begin to behave in a manner that will optimize their situation. They forget about their teammates and they optimize their position. However, this type of behavior only leads to additional furstrations and players slowly but surly begin to blame those around them, their teamates, for not performing as expected. As the game concludes, participants are asked to record different types of data that ahve been collected during the game. This data is gathered and hung up during a brief break prior to a game debriefing.
The debriefing takes from 1.5 to 3 hours to perform. Participants are lead thorugh a discussion that shows how their decisions lead to unwanted and unanticipated outcomes. The typical sets of graphs generated by players shows oscillation, amplification, and a phase lag of 15 to 20 weeks. The debriefing gets participants to see these features for themselves. Futhermore, the deb riefing also shows people how the behavior they generated is similiar for all participants playing the game. Blaming and replacing people with other players would not result in any real improvement in team performance. The most powerful lesson of the Beer Game is acheived by examining graphs that people drew of what they thought customer behavior was. People draw graphs that show the type of behavior, oscillation, that they experienced while playing the game. However, the customer order does not oscillate. The customer order is revealed and participants realize that they had perfect customers during the game. The behavior observed and experienced during the game was generated by their behavior. They discover that the mental models they had of customer behavior were phychologically safe, but wrong. This is where people realize that the sturcture of our management and social systems, whether they be in the private or public sector, generates behavior. Participants realize that powerful solutions require that we look deeper for answers and that we do not blame others and that we should not assume that our mental models are capable of capturing the behavior of complex systems of which we are all a part.