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Intopia and the Online Struggle

Teamwork online

Nicholas Groh

by Nicholas Groh Website ›

4th-year BCom student

Intopia business simulation logoWhether you are planning for Intopia or looking for information on how to work better with a team online, this blog should be more than helpful. Originally, I was going to write a blog about how to survive Intopia Online. My team did a great job, and we finished in 1st place as a wholesalers team. In March 2020, Sam Sutherland wrote 7 Tips and Tricks to Winning the Intopia Business Simulation, so considering how recent and similar it would be to mine, I instead wrote about the online Intopia experience and how you can use that to your advantage. 

Before we move on from the topic of how to do well within Intopia, I would like to add in four more tips that should be considered but are not covered within Sam’s blog; 

  1. When you have extra cash laying around, invest it within Home Office securities.

  2. Know your inventory and how much you can sell. Do note that some numbers vary and seem to come from a distribution, so follow what you learned in your statistics class and take a sample size of more than 5 (our team ended with 30 samples every few periods).

  3. Do not get a line of credit, it can break teams easily.

  4. Green production really helps when you need to stand out amongst the other teams.

1. How to Prepare Your Team

Similar to a well-oiled machine, your team should also be able to work smoothly.  Although, breaking that initial barrier and becoming comfortable with each other can be difficult, try to discreetly create a few icebreakers to make the meetings more organic, comfortable, and fun. Meetings happened at least once a week thanks to the group discussions during every class.

Top view of people working around a table - Preparing Your Team

Talking to each other and asking questions such as how our week is going, or asking if something interesting has happened since seeing them last breaks down the professional barrier and allows everyone to feel relaxed. You have more than six weeks to get to know your team, and you’ll be spending countless hours under high-stress, and with little sleep, but also having a great time.

As you get to know everyone, you’ll start to understand their strengths, interests, and weaknesses. With this knowledge, you should be able to break people into groups; we had one person for Management (inventory included), one person for Marketing, and three people for Finance and Accounting.  To be honest, our team was built around this distribution of work. We then loosely set up seconds-in-command and thirds-in-command for Marketing and Management. "Loosely" as in they should know how things work and are able to answer questions when the expert is busy or away. This splits up the amount of work when one section has a higher demand and even more importantly allows everyone to know what the other sections are able to do and are doing.  It is forced communication, but in a smooth, organized way and less stressful way.

2. How to Work as a Team Online

Within the trials, we practiced as many key elements from Intopia that we could. The trials are where your team learns how to work together like the gears within a machine, for online Intopia simulation.  Soon your team members will find where another cog might be needed and do their best to fill in there. As more questions are answered, your team becomes more comfortable, the cogs turn smoothly, and you’ll find yourself similar to a well-oiled machine with little bits of sand that the oil will eventually get rid of.

As for the other things that we worked on, we constantly changed and updated the Excel sheets to work more efficiently so that each team member could read what was needed, highlight expected demand, easily find needed information and more.

Charlie Chaplin caught in the turning wheel

We made sure that each of us were familiar with more than one “job”, or needed role in the simulation. We tried out different theories, some that worked better than others.  When we worked together, it was always on mini-teams so that we can find what is need, and we can freely communicate as if we were in-person. In other words, we video called each other as much as possible, to the extent of more than 28 hours between all 9 periods of the Online Intopia Simulation.

Anytime you are doing something for such a long time, it is possible that the team is bound to make some mistakes. If you can, fix them as soon as possible, and next, tell your team. In video calls, you can tell your team while you find and fix the mistake, and if you can’t fix it, share this with your team. They can sometimes adjust for the mistake or find ways to soften the negative effects on the team as a whole.

Lastly, mistakes are made, and miscommunication can occur. For instance, believing that you built two more sales offices for the last period at the end of the game, ordering for that amount, and finding out that this is not the case, and now your team has an excess of $300,000 of each product, the team can find out where the extra product will likely be sold above the expected amount within minutes of the deadline, of course securing your team first place. 

In addition, you are likely to end a call tired and knowing that in 6-8 hours you’re going to have to wake up and continue with the work and video call, but morale is key. Try your best to get along with your team, because if your team is discouraged or feeling down, they are also likely stressed. We always tried to break up the work with downtime, laughs, and jokes. This can also allow the mind to unravel and ease tensions. 

When the going gets tough, call your professor. Our professor worked wonders by giving us confidence with our own plan and easing tensions. Lastly, have all your meals planned in advance so you can eat quickly, if needed.

3. How to Build Relationships and Secure Better Deals with Other Teams

One of the biggest qualities that our team was very proud of ourselves for was for being ethical and fair to the other teams. This goes a long way in such a short simulation.  Phone calls and video calls work wonders as well; you are able to secure a deal with another team much faster, and, at least for us, make more favourable deals than the ones we text or email to the other teams. Calls can also add a sense of urgency to the deal, as they are under more pressure to respond. Silence is good sometimes to help add pressure to the other team, so you can use that to your advantage as well. If you can keep up, use it. In addition, teams with a bigger network are more likely to perform better.

I hope that this blog helps your team work well together for the Online Intopia simulation. Even if you don’t have the Intopia simulation just yet, hopefully it was helpful in provide ideas for maintaining your teams’ relationship. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.

Here are some additional resources for working online:

3 Tips for Surviving Group Projects in an Online Class

Designing Effective Team Projects in Online Courses