Role Plays – cringeworthy and unrealistic or a valuable learning tool?

Over the last two weeks, the team and I have been putting some focus on our Corvus Assured Executive Search methodology. We are all genuinely bought into the value of this service, but after some great chats, we identified an opportunity to develop our communication of this to clients.

The team volunteered, or rather voluntold, me to take the lead on the role plays, and after ten sessions (one person as the client and the other as a silent observer), we finished this round of the exercise.

This is the first time we have used role plays as a training technique. Initially, I was sceptical about the benefits.  I don’t have fond memories of my only other experience.  Many years ago, in a previous career, I had to make a pitch in front of 10 people who sat with their arms folded throughout. If this wasn’t bad enough, the whole thing was recorded. We watched the video back and the assembled group pointed out the positives and negatives. I still have flashbacks. 

Thankfully, this experience has been an infinitely more positive than the last. Not only did everyone stick brilliantly to their characters, but the learnings and takeaways from the experience have also been fantastic.  We have developed our listening skills, built confidence, and learnt about our communication styles. 

The sessions were enlightening and involving from both an emotional and a cognitive perspective, and the debriefings at the end always brought new insights and perspectives along with collaborative problem-solving. 

The reason I called it an exercise is due to the similarities between training and physical fitness. We do not stay fit automatically, we need to work at it.  The same goes for continually honing our communication and commercial skills. 

We are building role plays into our ongoing training and plan to bring external actors/friends of the business to give them an even greater ‘real life’ feeling.  


Interested in including role plays in your learning and development strategy? Below are my top 5 tips to help you implement successful role plays with your team.

  1. Frame it correctly. People need to have a genuine appetite to participate and understand the value of it for them. 
  2. All participants should prepare beforehand and behave in the role play as if it was a real-life situation.
  3. Be prepared to be uncomfortable.  We genuinely have a great bond in the team, but to get the most from it you must be prepared to commit to the exercise and expect the unexpected.
  4. Make it a safe space for honest feedback and set out the rules for engagement before you begin. It should not be an opportunity for someone to settle a score or show off how smart they may think they are.  Thankfully we did not need a ‘safe word’! 
  5. Having an observer makes the sessions much more valuable – they are not under pressure to be thinking about their next question or answer and can pick up on subtle nuances including tone of voice and body language.

When it comes to role plays, what you put in is what you will get out. Committing to the process will make the experience the most valuable for your business – and who knows, you might even enjoy it!


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