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Prepare for the Unexpected

Disruption games develop critical thinking

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a number of vulnerabilities in the food supply chain. If that leaves you worried about the “what ifs?” of your supply chain, consider the use of disruption games. Running disruptive games in your organization is a way to stay prepared for the unexpected. For example in the military, running war games or exercises trains teams to work together, think critically and implement swiftly if an “event” happens.1,2

Expecting the unexpected

Some senior dining operations have been impacted by supply challenges, from availability to substitutions, which require adjustments to satisfy existing menus. In addition to supply chain logistics, the pandemic raises labor challenges from illness to shifting processes and protocols to meet new, more stringent safety guidelines.

This can be especially disruptive to dining programs facing unexpected challenges on how to safely provide a healthy, nutritious meal to the most vulnerable. For many seniors, mealtime is much more than enjoying delicious food, it’s a time to nourish friendships and support. Senior living teams need to reimagine their dining program to reduce contact yet maintain social opportunities.3

Most organizations have disaster or business continuity plans that are reviewed annually or updated if there is a regulation change. This is a great start. To take it to the next level, incorporate training exercises into your operations.


Run a simulation exercise

There are several types of exercises. The game format is discussion-based and the easiest to use if you are just starting.

Help your team have a more robust understanding of the event by outlining how-to ideas such as:4

  1. As a large group, visualize different disruptive events and select one to be the focus of the exercise. Assign small teams and key roles for decision-makers, implementers and communicators.
  2. In smaller teams, conduct a deeper evaluation of the scenarios. To evaluate the event, consider the likelihood that it will happen and the severity of the event’s impact on supply and operations, including human resources. Each team member should offer their opinion from the perspective of their assigned role.
    • Reducing the risk of an event occurring
    • Diminishing the severity of the impact
  3. In the large group, review each of the findings and individually vote on the plan that will most likely reduce the risk or severity.
  4. Formalize a plan and project implementation needs.
  5. Repeat these “games” two or three times a year to encouragesthe team to practice critical thinking and envision corrective action.


Embrace change

Across the country, senior living teams have leaned into critical thinking and implemented innovative delivery methods and new menus. Modifications included everything from supplying room service to concierge programs that provided residents with custom-requested groceries. Other communities set up Zoom dinners with family members to help residents stay in touch. In another facility, the use of ham radios offered residents a nostalgic way to connect with each other.5

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “the only constant in life is change” and this has never been truer than it is today. Building skills like creativity, adaptability and process improvement through role playing and simulation will help your teams adapt to inevitable shifts and changes both on the job and off.


By rising to meet the challenges of these moments, senior living communities can confidently evolve to enable the safety and wellness of residents and staff while addressing the pressures and interruptions that unexpected circumstances bring. At Sodexo, we provide a comprehensive approach and complete range of services to support you as your community transforms to meet a new set of expectations.

Learn more at sodexorise.com/seniors




  1. https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/news/lessons-ongoing-pandemic-strategic-sourcing-changed-world
  2. https://hbr.org/2020/04/we-need-a-stress-test-for-critical-supply-chains
  3. https://www.food-management.com/senior-dining/road-ahead-onsite-dining-senior-dining
  4. http://www.mepsupplychain.org/supply-chain-disruption-response-exercises/
  5. https://seniorhousingnews.com/2020/03/26/dining-at-a-distance-senior-living-culinary-teams-make-tough-decisions-due-to-covid-19/

November 06, 2020

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