Successful role plays require meaningful and relevant
characters, skillful facilitators, the participants ability to play
the roles, observer involvement, and an effective debriefing
Role plays can be prewritten, part of a video clip, impromptu, or
created specifically for training. Role play as a pedagogy is
usually used in training programs involving interpersonal skills in
general organizational settings such as communication, sales,
performance appraisal, counseling, mentoring, team building, and
leadership. They also are used in specific settings, such as
healthcare and social services, where participants take on the
roles of workers, clients, and others in those settings.
Why it works
Role plays allow participants to experience the role and what the
role entails. They also provide a safe environment for learners to
experience and express the feelings and opinions about the roles
covered by the training program.
There are two ways you can approach role plays. You can design it
so that all participants are assigned to two- or three-person
groups, with everyone doing the role plays. Or you can develop a
script that calls for two or three volunteers to do the role play,
while the remaining learners serve as observers. Here are steps to
follow for creating the role play.
Do background research. Gather data from HR and line managers on
participant needs and the specific job roles of participants. This
ensures that the context of the role play becomes relevant for the
participants and that they are comfortable with the setting.
Script the role play. The role play must be scripted well and
without ambiguity. Role plays usually are scripted for two or three
Script the general context. That includes the organizational chart
and reporting relationships, as well as where the players fit into
the chart. Provide the background information about the
organization or department, and describe all the necessary details
of the context in which the roles are going to be played out.
Script for specific characters. Create separate character scripts
for each role. Describe the character and context of each role and
the relevant issue that is to be played out.
Do not give exact dialogues in the role plays. This might lead to
anxiety or stage fright for some. Additionally, the dialogues might
not match the personality of your role players. The personalities
of the participants need to show up in the role play. If you do
give exact dialogues, instruct the participants to play the roles
along the given lines, and inform them that they do not need to use
the exact words.
Do not write a case study for a role play. I have seen facilitators
write an entire story for a role play, and there is a great deal of
ambiguity when participants are asked to perform a role play based
on the script. Do not do this unless you want to create an
impromptu role play out of the case study. However, be clear about
how you want to go about the role play if it is impromptu.
Otherwise it can become confusing and be a waste of time.
Facilitation can make or break a role- play session. Here are some
Choosing volunteers. Success of a role play to a great extent is
based on the role players. At the beginning of the session, call
for volunteers. Take care that the same outgoing person does not
volunteer all the time. Occasionally, you may nominate a person to
participate because of personality, role, experience, or any other
suitable factor. In general, do not allow a boss and subordinate to
volunteer in the same role playunless the goal of the session is
for the participants to experience what its like to be in the
others shoes. If a player is not effective, you may call on another
volunteer to give participants a chance to compare the behaviors of
different personalities in a given situation.
Preparing players for role play. Give out the role-play context and
the specific role script to each individual. Do not allow players
to see the other players scripts. Allow volunteers 10 to 15 minutes
to read and understand the roles. Answer their questions and make
Preparing the observers. While the players are reviewing their
scripts, go over the scripts with the observers. Give out
observation sheets, which will bring attention to the relevant
issues in the role play.
Setting for the role play. Ensure that everyone can see and hear
the role players.
Facilitating and debriefing. Monitor the role play, players, and
observersand take notes. Do not interrupt the role play unless
necessary. Time the role play, and give a signal to players three
to five minutes before the end. Thank the players for volunteering.
After the role play ends, discuss the experience of the players and
observers, and draw parallels to the organizational reality. Ask
observers what they would do in the place of the players. Discuss
the takeaways from the session and the feelings of both the players
and observers. For any internalization to happen, discussion at an
emotion level becomes important. Do not leave any issue unresolved.
Role plays are successful if they mirror the organizational reality
and setting, and participants relate to it emotionally. If a role
play ends up just as entertainment for the participants, learning
may be lost.