How a Game Got Our Global Employees to Collaborate
VJ, an engineer in India working on a development project, is trying to resolve technical issues within a software application. Since the global consulting firm where he works employs thousands of other developers he can only assume there must be others who have faced this challenge, but doesn't know where to start in reaching them. Meanwhile, Olivia, a technical lead working in Boston, Massachusetts, recently solved a similar technical issue. What divides these two colleagues and prevents them from sharing this and hundreds of similar solutions? Eight thousand miles and a clear communication method.
In today's one-click-away world, employees often rely on well-intentioned yet complicated communication tools and platforms to reach distant colleagues. In the case of Olivia and VJ, a logical solution would be to create an enterprise portal where employees can collaborate, share ideas, and build relationships regardless of location.
To solve a set of similar problems, our company launched such a collaboration environment, called Socially, in 2010. Socially had all of the bells and whistles that portal vendors assured us would get our thousands of globally dispersed colleagues immediately connecting. In the first month of roll-out to our 7,000 person division, only 20 employees signed up. Over the next five months, after much cajoling and advertising, we recruited only an additional 400 employees. Not quite the results we were hoping for, so we attempted a new approach — we made the portal a game.
In the spirit of true online game design, we incorporated challenges, rules, points, badges, leaderboards, social media and, most importantly, incentives. By offering the employee (the "player") a sense of purpose and aspiration to an otherwise mundane and boring task, now Socially delivered an alternative setting within the workplace for people to meet, collaborate, mentor and learn new skills. Within six months of adding game dynamics to our collaboration platform, our active players jumped from 400 to 4,000. The first set of prizes were iPods, and over the last 18 months we have been rewarding players with exclusive meetings with company executives and public recognition as thought leaders. Now, a majority of the corporation is using this portal as their primary means for knowledge sharing and building relationships across our ever-expanding global company.
For decades companies like ours have tried and failed to solve collaboration problems using technology or policy changes to mandate behavior. But true collaboration can only happen if a person wants to change her behavior. Making some aspect of the job a game can be more effective in getting employees to collaborate, because it is a change effort designed around human nature — rather than enforcing a corporate appeal. The gamification approach is especially beneficial for global organizations that have a large, diverse customer base and employees dispersed all over the world. It can, and has for us, brought widely differing departments and functions together that otherwise would not have any reason to communicate. As an added bonus, it has become an incubator for thousands of talented minds to create, innovate, and engage in new initiatives that include future product and service development.
VJ and Olivia are a perfect example of this. Both became active users of Socially. VJ developed excellent relationships with his Boston colleagues and is now leading a high profile corporate project. Olivia's thought leadership was noticed on Socially and she is now a team leader within our gamification practice. Before the game, VJ, Olivia, and another 7,000 app developers did not know each other — they had joined our company from half a dozen companies that had recently merged and were located across 35 countries. Now, the social network has 258 groups, close to 200,000 pieces of content, and more than 4,370 users collaborating across the world.