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The Independent MAnagement Game: Win pounds 10,000 in our European market strategy game: Teams of 'directors' in simulated export firms will duel with their share prices. Roger Trapp tells how it works

FOR YEARS, business schools and other training and development organisations have used management games as a way of introducing new employees to the way a company works or enabling more experienced ones to try out new ideas or strategies. Indeed, they are often likened to the flight simulators used to train airline pilots.

They are also increasingly popular with schools and colleges and retired people, perhaps seeking an intellectual alternative to the crossword. Now readers of the Independent and Independent on Sunday have the opportunity to take part in a game that seeks to go further than the norm and replicate a manufacturing company operating in the European Union. As in real business, the stakes are high, with a pounds 10,000 prize and a chance to compete with the best teams in Europe for the winner and pounds 5,000 for the runners-up.

The game, which is being sponsored by National Westminster Bank, has been steadily developed by Bill Robertson and his team at Edit 515 since it was introduced as a training model at Strathclyde University in the late 1960s. The Independent Management Game is the latest step in an evolution that has led to it becoming one of the most sophisticated business simulations of its type.

The competition will involve teams of five or six 'directors' taking part in a knock-out. The first round will see the teams allocated on a random basis to competitive groups. The winners of each group will then progress to the semi-final and from there to the final, to take place in a leading London hotel. The winner of that will go on to the international final, to take place in Lisbon next year.

Unlike model games, which are almost exclusively played against computer programmes, the Independent version is highly interactive, with the teams competing against each other for a share of the market and of the labour force.

Mr Robertson sees this last aspect as particularly appealing. 'It is quite unusual,' he said. 'If people are not happy working for you - because of pay, overtime, the quality of the product, whatever - they will be attracted away.' But we believe that the game's simulation of the operation of a small to medium- size enterprise in the European Union - a sector increasingly recognised as an important source of wealth and jobs - also makes it attractive. In fact, this was an important factor in NatWest's decision to back it.

Kevin Jennings, director of commercial banking services at NatWest, said: 'In 1994 the 'home market' has to include all of the European Union. UK businesses face an unprecedented choice of markets which are booming, markets which are bottoming out and markets which seem all but bust.

'In this maelstrom, there are some of the greatest opportunities and greatest dangers that UK managers have faced in a generation. It is hoped that managers from a wide range of businesses will take the opportunity of the Independent Management Game to develop and enhance their skills - and to prepare themselves for the real market.'

The criterion for success will be share price performance. But to achieve that, participants will have to demonstrate a range of abilities. They will need to be able to handle production, design, marketing and exchange rates because - although trade within the EU will be done in Ecus - teams will be able to export and buy raw materials in US dollars. Furthermore, to prevent workers being poached, they will need to keep a close eye on human resources. As a result, the make-up of the team could be critical.

But it must be remembered how enjoyable the games can be. Some people find them so addictive that they take part year after year. Christopher Huhne, Business Editor of the Independent and Independent on Sunday, said: 'Management games are an exciting way of learning how different parts of a business interconnect. As an exercise in teamwork, this game is unsurpassed.'

If you want to take part, or to obtain further information, please call 081-671 7733 or fax 081-671 4552. Application forms, available from those numbers, must be returned by 29 April. But those returned by 1 April will be eligible for a discount on the entry fee.