…that is due to the way gamification is implemented and understood today. Let’s have a look at why it does not work in most cases – and how to fix that!
First misconception: What does Gamification mean?
Gamifying something is usually understood as adding elements known from games to a system in order to make its use more fun. And this may already be the root cause why gamification usually does not meet the expectations. If a task is boring or the tools for execution are annoying, adding a score or achievements won’t make it fun. There might be a small group of users who are more willing to invest time and effort in tedious work to get a high score, but that’s probably not what you aimed for when implementing gamification. You wanted your team members to be more engaged with their tasks. Instead they are only searching for the fastest way to collect points. There is even a chance that this decreases their performance.
Gamification that works must be built into the system, not on top of it. That is pretty obvious if you think about games: If playing it is not fun, winning does not change that; and your favorite game is enjoyable even if you lose. Executing the task has to be rewarding in itself. Take these two hints on how to achieve that:
- Doing something is self-rewarding every time we are proud of what we have done. Let your team know how the task they are performing fits into the big picture and why it is necessary. This can turn even small, repetitive tasks into something we are willing to invest our energy in.
- Think about what your team wants to achieve and turn the task in question into a step on getting there. For example, if your employees are interested in being known as experts for a given subject, executing the task can be a way of proving their knowledge and skill. (For less complicated tasks this can be soft skills like being able to stay concentrated when executing repetitive work.)
Second misconception: Competition and Motivation
Competition can motivate us. Evolution has built the desire to be the best (or at least better) into our brains. But it is not the only motivator embedded in our psyche and it is not the best one, especially when working in teams. Why? Because competition can get toxic. Bullying of users with low scores is an extreme example. What is seen more often is resignation. Realizing that you have no chance to become better (e.g. reach a higher rank) is one of the most demotivating experiences one can have. And of course, competition can reduce the willingness to cooperate and share knowledge and skills.
The good news: Fixing this is easier than it looks. There are multiple ways to reduce the toxicity. Have a second thought on whom the users are competing with. Awarding teams instead of individuals to some degree prevents most of the detrimental effects. Or let everyone compete with their former self and give special rewards to the ones winning with the greatest lead. Wording and presentation are also powerful tools. Just replace “best” by “most active” on your leaderboards, disable viewing the complete board and don’t show the precise scores. This still is a reward to the leaders without punishing others.
An even better way: Use other motivators. In most cases, the true need behind the wish to be the best is the desire to be recognized. A system notifying coworkers and supervisors about extraordinary performances and reached milestones, allowing them to express immediately that they value the effort and commitment, will support you more in motivating your team than any leaderboard could. And yes, that is still gamification. Achievements do just that: They recognize and reward outstanding performance automatically. Just keep in mind that recognition by a machine is not as powerful in motivating us as recognition by our social environment.
Third misconception: Gamification and Usability
What is often forgotten when talking about gamification is the role of usability and aesthetics. As humans we enjoy looking at nice things, especially if they are moving, and we do like using tools to achieve more while investing less. The effort in adding popular gamification features to a bad tool might be higher and less effective than improving the tool. A more intuitive menu and a little popup or animation may seem less important, but they do have the potential to heavily increase our willingness to use the tool and can even make us smile. There is a reason why aesthetics is a major point in every concept for new games. They help keep us concentrated, immersed and interested. So if you don’t want to invest time in a complex gamification system, consider investing some of it in the look and feel instead. Make using the tool a child’s play and the users will find out how to have fun with it by themselves.
So, can gamification motivate teams? Yes, but only if done right. Consider what your team members want and then use gamification to highlight how the tasks and tools support them in getting it. Don’t expect it to solve all your problems. Gamification makes hard work lighter, it can activate potentials and thus improve efficiency. Not more and not less.