About two years ago I co-founded the Life Game Project (LGP). LGP is focused on using immersive online games to support learning the skills required to be successful in life. For learning to occur two things need to be present for the learner. Content, there has to be something to learn, and engagement, they have to want to learn. Traditional education does a great job of delivering content but increasingly it struggles to engage the learner. Games are experts at creating engagement and if you can use them to deliver the educational content then you can make significant progress on learning.As I continued to research games I began to realise that games not only have a role to play in learning but can teach us a lot about leadership and how to engage our teams. A highly engaged team is an important enabler of a world class IT organisation as research has established a link between high levels of team engagement and outstanding organisational results.So, how do games engage and how can we use these insights at work?My game genres of choice are massively multi-player online (MMOs) games. Here are some of the mechanics that MMOs use to engage which are relevant to work environments:• Games provide tasks (often called quests) to players based upon their current level of expertise. The tasks they provide are positioned at or just above your current level of competency. At their best the offered tasks are challenging but doable.• Task are always given context. That is players are told how this particular task fits into the overall scheme of the story and why it is important.• The objective of the task and the success measures are clear. Players know precisely they need to achieve / produce.• While guidance is provided, players gets to choose if they complete the task and how the task is done (while the player does get to choose which tasks to complete in reality if you refuse too many task it makes the game tough to play).• Games provide plenty of feedback and recognition to players, providing a real sense of achievement and progress.• If you get stuck in an MMO there is always someone to ask. While help may come from official game information, more often it comes from the player community and player-generated forums and wikis. How can we use these insights? I am not about to advocate turning work into a game (at least not yet) however I do believe implementing these and similar mechanics in the work environment will improve engagement. Here are some things you can and should do:1. When asking your team to do something, always link the task back to the vision so your team understand how what they are doing fits in.2. Be clear on what is expected and what success looks like. As far as practical these success measures should be objective and measurable.3. Ensure that what you are asking the team to do is appropriate for their level of skill and ability. Ideally the task should be a stretch which supports the team members' personal development.4. Your focus should be on the outcomes or results not the method. Let the team members decide how the work should be done.5. Provide access to as many peer and network support mechanisms as practical, so the 'player' can work out for themselves what support they need and when.6. Provide clear and consistent feedback so they know how they are progressing. If they are succeeding, provide recognition. If they are struggling, consider how you can coach and support them.As I look through this list one thing stands out for me: Often as a leader, we focus on managing and controlling work produced by our team. What games teach us is that as a leader, our dominant focus needs to be on designing work and providing clear feedback and recognition rather than management and control. Game designers are so good at designing work that people pay them to be able to do the "work" in the game. Imagine what might be possible if our work-based leaders become as good at work design as game developers.Note: the ideas I have expressed in this column are mine however they have been highly influenced by Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken and I heartily recommend this book to you. Owen McCall is director of Viewfield Consulting. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and through his blog at www.successfulcio.com.
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