Play Games at the Office…You’ll Get More Done

In _Home, Leadership Practice by Shaun Hall4 Comments

Did you know

There are 22 definitions associated with the word “game”? They range from the act of participation in sporting events, all the way to the name of unknowing animals participating in said sporting events. The concept of a game is shared in every culture around the world.

The definition I most enjoy was famously described in The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia. The author, Bernard Suits states that games are “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” In other words, a game is a mechanism in which one can challenge themselves voluntarily to achieve a goal.

This is a powerful realization with many practical applications aside from the typical. I linked a video at the bottom of this post. In it, you can see a “game” being used as a motivating factor within an office setting. The scene is from The Office, and it’s a fantastic example of how leaders can use the concept to challenge themselves and employees.

For those who don’t want to watch it, the brief overview is that Andy (the leader) offered an incentive program for people to do a little more than what was typically expected out of them. He incentivized them in the form of a point. When someone received enough points, they could cash in their points to receive an item of their choosing. This sparks a complete atmosphere change and they appear to be working very intensely. That’s because they all chose to pool together their points to get the top prize (watch the clip if you want to see what it is ?).

This concept isn’t exactly a new one. The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham brought this form of motivation to the forefront. In the book, they go into detail about how to properly conduct what he dubs a mini game. And as for its practice, I can personally vouch for its success and impact.

Our Mini Game

My team has experimented with several mini games. There were a few key factors that we lived by when implementing.

  • Set a realistic but exceptional goal. The point is to motivate above and beyond the call of duty. However, it’s not meant to incite 60-hour work weeks either. You need to find a balance. It’s meant to push your team not shove.
  • This is only a reward based system. There is never a punishment, and the game should never eliminate amenities that are already present. Voluntary participation is absolute key.
  • The goals should be short-term and measurable. Everyone on the team should be able to have a clear goal in front of them along with a target date. Keeping the scoreboard analog also helps with the emersion. Be creative with it. We have had MineCraft and Superhero themes. You can find more out about minecraft by visiting various websites online such as GGServers, to increase your knowledge about the game, and enjoy learning about the various designs of creating your own world.
  • Have your team come up with the goal. This helps give ownership of the activity. I have found that when presented with the opportunity, they will choose an appropriate goal that challenges.
  • Let them choose the reward. Similar to the goal this increases ownership. My team did not choose anything crazy (as seen in the video). They picked something they felt would be worth going above and beyond for. Our last reward consisted of tickets for an Escape Room, lunch, and a few rounds of bowling. We took the day, and I was able to purchase this for them because they achieved what they set out to do.
  • We win together, and we lose together. This will encourage the team to come together as a team.

Wrap Up

My team has now finished our 5th mini-game and will be doing another reward day this Thursday (04/13). The concept has brought my team closer together. I couldn’t be prouder of what my group has been able to accomplish since we started implementing this and I don’t see us departing from it anytime soon. Not to mention, I think my team would be severely disappointed in me if we did.

I added a little blurb about some thoughts on how games in the office might make people uncomfortable. You can continue reading if you are concerned that some of your staff might be resistant to the concept at first.

As always, comments are appreciated and check out my Instagram to find out if we successfully escaped!


Link to Mini Game Video:

Why would people not want to participate in the game?

Well, the explanation may be found in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, Abraham Maslow was a prestigious psychologist who conducted his work in the mid-1900’s. In 1943 Maslow published a paper with the following picture.

This image is the graphical representation of the typical individual’s needs. The theory is that needs of a level cannot be met until the needs of the level below it are satisfied first. For instance, the status of a friendship will not be important to me if I am on the brink of starvation. It’s only once I have solidified my basic needs; I become interested in other relationships.

The same holds true for games, only games fall under the top of the pyramid (Self Actualization). In order for a team to be ready to adopt mini-games into their culture, the team must feel safe in their environment, feel the camaraderie with their teammates, and have the self-esteem that’s needed for the next level. Until your team exhibits all of these behaviors, it may be difficult to get them to fully buy into a mini game.

I hope you find this extra helpful.


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