How gamification can help you build emotionally healthy teams

4 minute read

Emotionally healthy teams are more productive, more creative and less likely to experience conflict. Corporate empathy expert Olga Valadon outlines the ways in which gamification has been used successfully in organisations and offers practical tips for implementing gamification in your own team

Three cartoon team people on top of lego-style bricks

There are plenty of situations at work where emotions can run high. Whether it’s during periods of intense change or when an important deadline is looming, issues will arise that require strong, emotionally healthy teams to understand the challenges and work together collaboratively to execute solutions.

When you think about helping your team to solve one of these problems, do you ever think about playing a game?

While many may consider work as no place for games, leading-edge companies across the spectrum use gamification to create impact where it counts and accomplish things like behaviour changes and team motivation. Indeed, 70% of the world’s largest 2000 companies engage in some form of gamification, and employees find gamification makes them feel more productive (90%) and happier (89%) at work.

For example, NIKE increased its online visibility by awarding points to customers who met their sports goals and shared them on social media. To teach employees the best practices for plant operations Siemens developed a storyline centred around a character called Pete the Plant Manager while IBM introduced a digital badge training programme, which encouraged learners to share their badges on social media.

What is gamification in the Workplace? 

Gamification is the infusion of gaming elements into a non-game context. A workplace game has strategic elements that serve a specific purpose, unlike children’s games, whose purpose is less conscious.

Game elements can include rewards such as points, competition, exploratory play or game-like design. 

The bottom line is that gamification makes non-fun things more fun and, therefore, more motivating. So, far from distracting people from work goals it can be the secret ingredient that helps people meet them.

How can leaders use gamification to nurture emotionally healthy team dynamics?

A gamified approach can create alignment by discovering how team members see themselves working together. It encourages authentic expression and insight, so that people say what they mean instead of not speaking, hedging or pleasing others, and provides an equal playing field for honest dialogue and discussion. Essentially, gamification can bring teams together to handle complex and challenging issues constructively, creatively and with real commitment to a shared goal.

Each member of your team will want to understand the strengths they bring to the table. Providing the space for each team member to understand each other’s strengths is key for them to uncover what type of team they could build. A great way to do this is by using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a method where you essentially build your idea about a subject (in this case, focusing on team dynamics), create a 3-D ‘model’ of your concept using LEGO® bricks, and illustrate your model through storytelling.

How to use the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Methodology to define team strengths

To begin, ask each member of your team to make a model that represents who they are in the workplace – their strengths, their skills, their challenges. Encourage them to use as many LEGO® bricks as possible.

When they are done, ask each person to share the story behind their model with the group. For example, an individual might have built a tower to represent their out-of-the-box thinking and recall a time when they used this skill at work.

Some questions you may want to explore at the end of the story:

  • How did using this skill make them feel?
  • What did others in the team notice about that person when they were able to use this strength?
  • How did using this strength benefit the team?
  • How often is the person able to use this skill in the workplace? What conditions need to be in place to make that happen?
  • How can the rest of the team  enable this individual to use this strength more often?

Repeat the process until everyone has the opportunity to share their story.

Encourage the team to reflect on what they are hearing and how they feel about the process. Ask if they notice anything different or unusual about the models. Is there a common theme that is emerging?  Encourage everyone to listen actively and respectfully. This gives each team member a safe space to discuss and articulate with confidence their individual talents, allowing others to gain a better understanding of how everyone works.

Next, invite your team to combine the individual models to formulate one big model that reflects the team as a whole. This allows them to creatively visualise each working part of the team.

Repeat the same storytelling and sharing cycle, inviting each team member to reflect on how they fit together and how they can build their collaboration.

At the end of the process, invite all participants to write on a whiteboard the words that represent their “good teamwork model”. These notes offer a working model of good teamwork that is both individual and team-built. Finally, ask them to reflect on how they can move towards this model of good teamwork in the coming weeks and months. What behaviours and actions can they change or implement? How will they hold each other accountable?

This gamified approach allows employees to open up constructively and emotionally about the role they play at work, and invites deeper connection and understanding between colleagues in order to build a more collaborative, productive and motivated team.

Stay open-minded as you explore the potential benefits of gamification. Convention, scepticism, overwhelm or perfectionism might shut down exploration and innovation. But, on the other hand, you’ll never know if gamification can help you if you don’t conduct a few experiments.

Olga Valadon, pictured below, is a corporate empathy expert and the founder of leadership, strategy and culture consultancy Change Aligned®.

Olga Valadon headshot

Published 8 November 2023. Disclaimer: LEGO, SERIOUS PLAY, IMAGINOPEDIA, the Minifigure and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO group, which does not sponsor, authorise or endorse this article
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