Why people play games and why leaders should encourage the games they play!

Involvement is key to engagement. So help people learn by playing games!

In our recent international survey of executives, exploring the most important traits of engaged employees, 30% of respondents listed that “they are involved and involving” as their no 1*.

The noise in the engagement space has been deafening at times. It’s often confusingly contradictory for the uninitiated but far too seldom rooted in actual experience. Ian Buckingham, in various guises, has designed, directed and produced engagement programmes that have supported the development of some of the most iconic brands down the years from Orange and Microsoft through to ZFS and IBM. So while the push communicators and theorists complain and pontificate, please take a tip from TBT  and “let people play games”!

Game theory models strategic situations, or games, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others. It is based on creating a safe space in which to experiment with scenarios some of which, at some point, will be applied “back at the ranch”. It is used in the social sciences (most notably in economics, management, recruitment, operations research, political science, and social psychology) as well as in other formal sciences (logic, computer science, and statistics) and biology (particularly evolutionary biology and ecology).

While initially developed to analyze competitions in which one individual does better at another’s expense (zero sum games), which can readily be applied to business, it has been expanded to treat a wide class of interactions, which are classified according to several broad types of games. Prominent examples include cooperative and non-cooperative games and games with perfect and imperfect information. Both are situations that employees are often likely to face during the course of their careers but which the books of instruction creators, standards and kpi setters won’t really be able to help them with.

Down the years, we have developed a range of engagement approaches that embrace game theory. These include the use of scenario modelling and forum theatre. Ian describes a number of these approaches in Brand Champions.

Two of the games we’ve developed include the storytelling-based executive role-playing game Brand Champions™ designed to mobilise change agents as part of a transformation programme. The other is Brand Challenger™ a powerful strategy development and future-based scenario-planning game that engineers and then resolves a crisis stimulating innovative thinking and teamwork.

The Challenger™ product helped a global insurance company generate game-changing innovations within its product set but most importantly unleashed the untapped potential of their first line managers, transforming the culture within the space of 18 months. It is helping transform the branding model of an FS challenger brand and helped the senior executive of a utility company position the organisation credibly as a true challenger brand.

The Brand Champions™ game has helped executives within the petro-chemical industry transform the way they develop strategy and communicate health and safety , with remarkable early impact on their core performance figures. It has helped an “under-siege” tourist board permanently change their culture by creating a network of champions and rapidly bonded a senior team within the building industry to cope with the recent economic downturn and to stay several steps ahead of an aggressive corporate takeover.

In each case, we were able to create a “safe place” through the medium of scenario-based game playing, that enabled the participants to be critical but constructive; to make suggestions but take responsibility for implementing them and, most importantly, to generate solutions to very pressing business challenges and own them as a team.

It’s a commonly acknowledged wisdom that children, like all mammals, play games to learn important lessons about life through trial and error, hopefully conducted in a safe place. As is so often the case, in the stuffy and sterile corporate halls, we forget that not only do we develop through taking risks and making mistakes, but we learn mostly by being involved. If properly and credibly designed, games provide the safe place for innovating; risk taking and critique. They are an invaluable involvement opportunity.

But in these tough times, are you encouraging game playing? Or have you locked up the board demanding focus on the day job?

*contact us if you would like more details.

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4 thoughts on “Why people play games and why leaders should encourage the games they play!

  1. Pingback: Gamification – from Action Man to action manager | The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

  2. Pingback: Gamification – from Action Man to Action Manager « Brand Engaged

  3. Pingback: Let’s get physical Part 3: The Future | The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

  4. Pingback: Gamification: engagement nirvana or emperor’s new clothes? | The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

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