You Should Be Playing Games at Work

What would you say if I told you that you should let your employees play games at work?  I thought you’d say that, but seriously…  I’m not kidding…  Really, you should let your employees play games, and in fact you should encourage them to do so.  Let me explain myself before you start to think I’ve been hit on the head one too many times.  I’m not saying you should go install “World of Lawn Gnomes” on every workstation in your office, or that you should take your internal tools and turn them into video games, although that would be pretty amazing.  What I am saying is that you should consider “gamifying” meetings, training, and incentive programs, or really anything else that you think can be turned into a game or given game-like qualities.  You see, people enjoy playing games, and by giving them games to play, you can actually make your employees more productive.

Think about games and why people play them.  Games are fun!  If work is fun, then employees will enjoy it much more.  Games are challenging.  People like to use their brains to tackle challenging issues, and as an added side bonus, overcoming challenges is rewarding – another reason why people play games.  Games are repeatable and allow you to get better with practice.  Generally pieces of a game – levels, boards, stages, quests – can be done over and over again enabling a gamer to improve her skills before moving on to more difficult challenges.  Games can be completed at the pace that the user sees fit and at the level that they feel comfortable with.  Games usually have difficulty settings that can be adjusted to suit the player, allowing everyone to enjoy the game rather than only catering to one group.  There are many more reasons that games are so popular, but you get the idea…  Games are AWESOME!

So how can you leverage the allure of gaming to improve the effectiveness of your meetings and training and to foster more engagement from your employees in the work that they do?  You have to think about the qualities that games have that people enjoy that I mentioned previously, and you have to give your meetings and trainings those qualities and create games that employees can play to accomplish goals or change behavior.  This doesn’t mean that you need to run out and hire a staff of game developers and replace all of your workstations with PlayStations.  One of the easiest things you can do to start to gamify your office is to think about the meetings that you have that are long, boring and marginally productive and rethink the way that you run them.  Start by rethinking your presentation style.  Don’t just spend the whole meeting subjecting its attendees to death by PowerPoint.  Mix up your presentation style by drawing bullet points on flip charts as you discuss them, add in regular participation opportunities that allow meeting participants to actively attend the meeting instead of passively doing so, or create a fun game that meeting participants can play that encourages them to be engaged in the meeting – think “buzzword bingo”.  Anything you can do to make a meeting fun, challenging, rewarding or interactive will make it much more productive.

Another thing that you can do to easily introduce gaming into the work place is to create mini games to accomplish a goal.  This concept, which I learned from the wonderful people over at ZingTrain, is super-simple to implement.  All you have to do is start with a goal that you want to accomplish or a behavior that you want to change and then create a game to get to the desired result by answering 5 simple questions*:

  1. Do you want to reward individuals or groups of people?
  2. Who is eligible to play?
  3.  What is the desired goal or behavior that you want to encourage?  (This is really important, because without this you’re just playing a game, but with it the game has a purpose.)
  4. What are the rules?
  5. What is the prize?
    *source: ZingTrain’s “The Art of Giving Great Service” seminar.

A great real world example of a mini game is a program that was launched at HOSTING a few years back called “Big Brains.”  Before the launch of this program we had a major issue getting meaningful public-facing support documentation created for our customers, so we decided to solve this problem by gamifying the process of content creation.  Big Brains is simple.  Every month there is a pool of bonus money set aside for the program.  Anyone in the company is able to create public-facing content and submit his or her articles for credit.  For each completed article the author receives a point balance based on the value, depth and difficulty of what he or she wrote. At the end of each month the points are tallied and everyone gets a share of the bonus based on the percentage of the total points that they collected that month.  The launch of this program led to thousands of articles being created for our customers.

The final gamification suggestion I will mention is one that gets me most excited, and that is the gamification of training programs.  This is more difficult than creating a simple mini-game to motivate individuals, and that is because it requires us to completely rethink the way that we train people.  I saw a great TED talk on YouTube recently by a gentleman named Paul Anderson – a high school science teacher who revamped his entire lesson plan to act more like a game than a traditional classroom.  A few things from this talk really resonated with me.  The first was that traditional education is a one-size-fits-all approach that delivers material to students in the same way and at the same pace regardless of the individual skill level of the class participants. It then quizzes them once at the end to see if they got it.  This is downright silly when you think about it, but it’s how things are done.  What Paul Anderson did differently is to provide the material to his students and then let them consume it at whatever pace they felt comfortable with. He then allowed them to perform the knowledge tests multiple times until they were sure they understood the material.  The difference is that, in the traditional model, the most important thing is the grade, but in the model that Mr. Anderson created, the most important thing is that the student actually understands the material.  The other thing that I took away from his video was that people want to be recognized, and creating some sort of scoring system or achievement system like badges or achievements in all of the major gaming platforms is a great way to motivate students to learn.  You can duplicate this in your own training programs by making the training modular and self-consumable by the students.  This way students can proceed at the pace that is comfortable for them, ask questions when they get stuck, get personalized help from the instructor when they need it, take knowledge tests multiple times until they really understand the material and then move on to the next module when they are ready.

Hopefully you have a good idea of how you can start to create fun, rewarding, productive and engaging programs for your employees.  So what are you waiting for?  Go play some games!

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One Comment

  1. Excellent points … “The difference is that, in the traditional model, the most important thing is the grade, but in the model that Mr. Anderson created, the most important thing is that the student actually understands the material. The other thing that I took away from his video was that people want to be recognized, and creating some sort of scoring system or achievement system like badges or achievements in all of the major gaming platforms is a great way to motivate students to learn.”

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