The Strike Fighter

On 9 March 2011, 1600 hours, fourteen U.S. Marines, Air Force, and Navy officials entered the Pentagon conference room located at 162 Aleja Niepodleglosci in Warsaw.

PHOTO: Jagoda, the co-author of the game, controlling the Strike Fighter with a laptop, upright piano and projector.

by Filip Wejman

Strike Fighter is an international awards winning training game designed by Pracownia Gier Szkoleniowych (the company famous among foreign clients for its tongue-twisting name) - our Main Partner in the INPRIS Water Negotiation Project. This was the second game that students played with Pracownia Gier Szkoleniowych, the first one being the New Commons Game. (Here you can read more about the Strike Fighter in Polish).

The Strike Fighter scenario deals with the acquisition of a fighter jet by three armed forces: Air Force, Marines, and the Navy. The objective of the teams is to contract the best plane for their needs. In addition, the player who performs best, has a shot for a career boost: he/she becomes the Joint Chief of Staff.

The meeting lasted for about 4 hours. Students negotiated the model of the plane and finance behind the transaction. There were two working groups, each consisting of three teams (Air Force, Marines, Navy). As in some other games, and also as in life, students found themselves in the squeeze between the need for competition and cooperation. The extra twist was that players had to operate towards two independent, sometimes conflicting, goals: closing the plane deal AND winning the competition for the Joint Chief of Staff.

The Moderator of the game was a professional negotiator, Witold Rychłowski who cooperates on the Strike Fighter project with Pracownia Gier Szkoleniowych.  The Moderator introduced the students to the Strike Fighter, monitored the talks, advised the teams during the negotiations, and gave them feedback after the game.

In the feedback part, the Moderator first praised the players, then he crushed them, then he praised them. Initially, most players were pretty happy with their performance. Quickly they found out that none of the teams contracted for the optimal jet. Both groups bought sub-optimal aircraft even though they could have afforded optimal planes. One of teams was left with a significant part of their plane budget that they did not spend.

A common problem for the players was time pressure, even though one of the teams finished ahead of time. Nobody offered easy solutions here. One suggestion was to work on the division of labor between players in the same team: analysis v. communication with other teams.

The Moderator showed that players started with same material as regards text and data about their tasks, but arrived at different interpretations. They were not able to communicate well enough to clear all the misinterpretations. The Moderator made the point that players must be able to step mentally into the shoes of the opponents in order to find out about the thinking of the other team, in particular – how the opponents perceive the behavior and expression of the first team. (This reminds me of the brilliant video about poker by Professor Nesson of Harvard Law School. At 11:07 Nesson introduces his riddle illustrating how you can earn a Kingdom if you’re good in imaging what others understand from your behavior.)

Each group had a slight problem with their result. In one group, two teams came in first with an equal score, so it was impossible to declare the winner who gets to become the Joint Chief of Staff. In the other group, the Marines and Air Force made an alliance against the Navy, so that the Navy came in last with a very poor result, far behind the other two. In relative, abstract terms it was a victory for the Marines and the Air Force, however this was something that the Moderator did not like. When the third party gets a bad deal, it's not happy with the contract, and is later likely to breach the agreement or sabotage the project in other, soft ways.

The lesson above can relate to the point by Wayne Schmidt, Ph.D. - an American diplomat in Cracow - who explained to us in February that you FAIL the exam for a career diplomat at the U.S. State Department, if you press the other party too hard in the negotiation exercise and leave your partner unhappy with the result.

Below, you can see more photos from the Strike Figher negotiation at the INPRIS Water Project