Pros & cons of teamification

Rise    LetMeGetMyScarfTeam based gamification, recently branded “teamification”, has much going for it.

For one, it avoids the problems of individual gamification at work, particularly around badly drawn comparisons on leaderboards that cause unwanted disengagement  (“I’ll never get to the top, I’m happy being a middle ranker I’ll just stay here, I can’t get a top score because I don’t use that tool”).

The benefits of teams are in the shared celebrations, the shared sense of endeavour and collective achievements create bonding and high relatedness amongst team members. We all like being in winning teams.

Recently I put this to the test with a collective endeavour twitter competition to see if we could spread the word among “foreverists” – fans of the recently cancelled ABC show “Forever”. I published an hourly-refreshing leaderboard during the tweet storm and it was well received among the fans who saw their personal dashboard, their rank within the community, and most importantly the progress of the whole community towards the goal.

It worked really well and we hit  our goal and more. 349% of our target to be precise. For 284 participants to drive 4500 tweets, 2300 retweets and over 3000 mentions is no mean feat. Clearly the power of teams and collective endeavour is worth tapping into.

But is there a downside?

Certainly being stuck in a perpetually losing team is no fun either. Teams that lose frequently tend to disband or morale simply drops through the floor – worse, being a loser becomes the cultural norm with anyone trying to challenge the status quo being laughed off as naive.

Within teams there are issues too.

At a recent Gamifiers meetup, Sebastian Deterding highlighted the issue of Social Loafing – that’s what happens when someone coasts on the back of the rest of their team’s hard work – not really contributing yet sharing in the team rewards.

In a short term finite campaign like the Forever example above, it’s not an issue, but in a long term infinite scorekeeping project, the problems of social loafers can become acute.

The problems that occur (probably after the two week honeymoon period any group seems to enjoy) are infighting, factions, politics and disengagement. They can be just as damaging to individual motivation as badly designed leaderboards that pit individuals against each other.

Avoiding the issues of teams is worthy of another discussion but for now it is worth bearing in mind that although teamification has its strengths it also has weaknesses too.

Grandfather of Gamification, Chuck Coonradt, explains infinite scorekeeping

When I wrote the “Game of Work”, in 1984, there were five core principles that would be considered, by many, to be the DNA of Gamification. They are as follows:

  • Goals Must Be Clearly Defined
  • Scorekeeping Must Be Clear and Predictable
  • Feedback Must Be Frequent and Appropriate
  • Rules Don’t Change in the Middle of the Game
  • There Must Be Freedom to Perform and Choice of Methods

Coach John Wooden said “It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that really matters.”

I agree, and after almost 40 years of hands-on experience with over 5,000 organizations, and hundreds of thousands of practitioners, I believe the most important learning has been that the creation of a culture of appropriate feedback is the most significant of the five principles we previously identified.

This principle is much more significant than I first realized and is the cornerstone of improved employee engagement through the gamification process.

The next great learning was that scorekeeping’s primary purpose was to create agreement between player and coach (not measurement or metrics). Feedback is based on:

  • When (what is appropriate frequency);
  • What Kind (celebratory, or corrective); and
  • How Much (primarily determined by the recipient)

Feedback is appropriate. This is the basis for judgment of the effectiveness of the scorekeeping system and scorecards within that system.

I am not a management scientist, like Jim Collins, but rather an observer of the different motivational levels demonstrated by the same people in different circumstances. Our observations produced a bit of a tongue twister, when we asked “Why will people pay for the privilege of working harder, than they will work when they are paid?

Let us learn about the power of infinite scoring from our experience with the games people all over the world love to play. The scorekeeping systems have several elements which make them the sustainable worldwide standard .

  • They are credible to the participants – all players accept the scorekeeping methods before being asked to play
  • They seldom change, if at all. Basketball took years to determine define and adopt the three point line, and then had to have several different distances.
  • They are objective – even the scoring of ice skating, diving, and gymnastics, (seemingly subjective) are governed by principles that insure the consistency which is necessary to gain credibility from the participants and viewers (fans)
  • They maximize the number of winners.
    • Compare 144 employees playing in a company golf tournament. – 6 different flights separated by player handicaps, 24 players per flight. Then you add longest drive, closest to the hole, and maybe even an award for most lost balls, and you have the possibility of multiple winners and several games within the game for overall best player.
    • Contrast that with the same 144 players in a tennis tournament where there will be only one ultimate winner. The first round 72 folks lose, and 72 move on to the next round., where another half of them will lose, until the final two are standing and then one of them will lose, resulting in a single winner. Unfortunately, the end result is 143 players whose final memory of the experience is a loss.
    • Whether you are in a marathon or other measured distance running the primary goal is to beat your personal best, or
    • Golf , where a handicap (based on past personal performance) allows all of us to challenge ourselves against our previous performance
    • In both cases, there is a world record, and of course PAR, but the vast majority of participants are motivated by the comparison to past personal performance.
  • They are dynamic. Meaning players know the score during the game (which allows them to change their behavior to win, before time runs out)
    • Hockey fans are much more enthusiastic than figure skating fans because they know the score during the game.
    • A figure skater only knows how she/he did after the performance is over with no chance to improve.

The very powerful question, which drives human behavior, on and off the job is “Am I winning, losing or don’t know the score?”

Leaders, Coaches and those of us who assist them, must stay true to the principles of established scorekeeping to bring true employee engagement and satisfaction to the workplace.

The Game of Work is just like the Game of Life. Everyone wants to be a winner. With clear and predictable scorekeeping, you can win.

For additional information you may contact us for a free executive summary of ‘Scorekeeping for Success’ via email or visit our website

By using the core Game of Work principles, we have much more than just a shiny new object. We will have a very valuable tool for management and an opportunity for individuals to reach their full potential.

Just remember – “Given a Good Game, People Will Play Their Heart Out”.

This guest blog was written by Charles “Chuck” Coonradt, labelled as “the Grandfather of Gamification” in a Forbes Magazine article in 2012 by Ken Krogue


Chuck is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of The Game of Work, founded in 1973 and dedicated to the success of its corporate clients. Graduate of Michigan State University. Internationally recognized in the fields of goal setting and profit improvement, as an author, consultant, and speaker. Chuck’s best selling books The Game of Work, The Better People Leader, Scorekeeping For Success, Managing The Obvious, and The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity have been labeled management “must reads.” He is a contributing author to the best selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series and quoted in an additional two dozen books. He is a founding member of the School of Entrepreneurship, Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Management.

The Game of Work’s client list includes many Fortune 500, as well as other nationally and internationally recognized firms. Companies that have successfully utilized and implemented Chuck’s unique concepts include Pepsi Cola, The Chicago Tribune, Nordstroms, The US Air Force and Postal Service, Boeing, Marker Bindings, Molina Healthcare, Coca-Cola Consolidated and International Paper. Over one million executives, managers, and supervisors on five continents have been exposed to Chuck’s ideas on feedback, scorekeeping, goal setting, coaching, choice and accountability.

Gamification for Performance Management


While businesses spend billion of dollars every year to evaluate their employees, the outcome is disappointing. The data that performance evaluations are done and promotions based on are lacking in detail, extent and objectivity. No wonder that instead of a meritocracy we see people being promoted based on their networking and socializing skills.

World of Warcraft players on the other hand know very well how they and their fellow players are doing. The player stat sheets clearly indicate their current status and achievements, and tell them how to advance. A game played by 10 million players has more data on its players than billion dollar companies about their employees. But this is about to change with introducing gamification to Human Resources and into all aspects of a company.

Let’s take a look at how companies are doing performance management today, what the actual goal is, and what some companies have done by introducing gamification to this process.

Current Status

Traditionally performance reviews are scheduled to take place every quarter or once a year. The review is done by the employee’s line-manager and, sometimes, additional appraisers are added. The problems of course are:

  1. Defining the goals at the beginning of the period and adapting them during the period, when goals and strategy change
  2. Keeping track of achievements and evaluating them
  3. How to bring achievements in the equation that were not part of the original goals but were done anyways

The first issue requires flexibility that allows adapting goals and then proper communication and agreement with the employee. The second issue is just keeping track of them. There is not one way to record achievements; some may be documents (study written), some money in the bank (deals closed), others simple emails from clients or colleagues who wanted to thank you for your help. A manager’s challenge is to access the channels and compile the information. Some channels may never be accessible, like the emails that thanked your employee.

A solution could be to go with crowdsourcing feedback and recognition. Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of the employee recognition solutions company Globoforce, mentions five steps to improve that process[1]:

  • Capture achievements throughout the year.
    With social recognition, individual and team achievements and successes are captured at the moment they happen throughout the year. Employees better understand what performance is desired on an on-going basis while managers can see first-hand an employee’s true performance, behaviors and influence.
  • Widen the input circle beyond a single point of failure.
    By leveraging feedback from across the organization, managers can expand the singular viewpoint of traditional performance reviews to include positive feedback from co-workers and peers alike. These ongoing reviews provide a more accurate collection for how individuals are performing within teams and across departments.
  • Use inspiration, not obligation.
    Social recognition is the epitome of effective reviews: they’re truly inspired, not forced by antiquated performance review processes. When peers give reviews of each other via recognition, it’s due to the strong performance they witness. It’s a purer performance evaluation and not diluted by a check-box mindset.
  • Expand accountability for reputations and careers.
    By incorporating feedback from peers across the company, you lessen errors for how an employee’s performance and career is judged and nurtured. For most companies, the performance review is an anchor for documentation. By rounding it out with recognition, you are creating a more complete assessment around employees’ reputation and work performance.
  • Empower employees to create a performance mosaic.
    With relationships and workflows extending beyond immediate teams and divisions, management and HR can create a performance mosaic to appraise true company performance. This social graph of the true performance of individuals and teams develops as employees and peers recognize one another.

Gamification of Performance Evaluations

While crowd-sourcing is not necessarily a gamification technique, Australian startup Wooboard[2] allows employees to thank each other for work they have done. By sending a (whimsically named) “Woo“ and tagging it with a category (categories are maintained by management and reflect the core-values and activities the management wants to encourage), the standalone system enables peer-recognition, records that information, and shows how often employees have been wooed for following the company’s core values.

What if you even go beyond crowd-sourced achievement gathering and extend that to the determination of each employee’s bonus? That’s what the US-based gaming and entertainment company IGN [3] is doing[4]. Employees themselves decide who should earn more bonuses. The system is called “viral pay“ and twice a year every employee receives “Tokens of Appreciation“ which they can distribute to other employees. The rules are simple:

  1. All tokens must be distributed
  2. You cannot distribute them to yourself
  3. And the CEO is exempt from receiving tokens

While nobody knows who gave the tokens to whom, IGN posts a list of who got how many tokens. Employees reward each other for helping out and going the last mile. That system motivates others who have not received as many tokens this time to be more helpful the next time.

This concept of course is not unfamiliar to IGN. That’s how loot in many videogames is distributed. Teams, guilds, battle groups who beat the boss (such as a dragon), distribute the awards amongst each other depending on their contributions. Lee Sheldon, video game designer and associate professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, started his own video game design classes as a video game, where students formed teams of five and had to distribute the loot amongst them according to their contributions in the team projects[5]. Fears that students would distribute them equally turned out to be unsubstantiated. The students knew exactly how much each team member contributed and awarded accordingly.

A technology that can be used for such a crowd-determined bonus round is[6]. Each team member receives a monthly allowance for granting bonuses, and can then praise and grant small peer bonuses to their colleagues. A crucial factor to make a peer-to-peer bonus working is keeping them transparent. In a failed example from the General Services Administration[7] the bonus-rewards were not transparent (only the recipient and the giver knew about the amount), led to rigging the system, and violated federal governance standards.

Thus a gamified performance review would rely on better data. And as we’ve mentioned the gamification score extensively, a performance review wouldn’t even be required anymore, but would surface in a different form: as a career planning and advocacy session.

Spanish company Gamifik[8] offers a mobile solution for continuous 360-degree feedback. This helps HR to identify problems early rather than at the end of the period.

ROIKOI[9] offers a gamified mobile app that lets co-workers rate other co-workers using peer voting to rate people in the company. The voting happens anonymously and the results are displayed through a ROIKOI-score on a leaderboard.

With these examples the first companies are on the way to create a fairer and more objective way to evaluate employees and thus motivate and engage them better.

About the Author

MARIO HERGER is CEO, founder and partner of Enterprise Gamification Consultancy LLC[10], a strategic consulting group focused on gamification, innovation, social business, and intrapreneurship in the enterprise. He had been Senior Innovation Strategist at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California and Global Head of the Gamification Initiative at SAP where he had worked for 15 years. He is the author of a number of gamification books, including Gamification in Human Resources[11].

[1] Crowdsource Your Performance Reviews



[4] At IGN, Employees Use A “Viral Pay” System To Determine Each Others’ Bonuses

[5] Lee Sheldon, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, Course Technology, 2012







Lightweight Gamification

Gamification design still tends to attract game designers who are used to mature games – they create gamified experiences that try to cover all the bases. But all those currencies, levels and badges can add up to quite a few moving parts.  Not something for time and cash strapped businesses to attempt.

But I don’t believe gamification has to be so complex, certainly not to begin with, I think there’s room for a simpler approach –  that’s why I’m introducing my lightweight gamification model:

It is composed of two parts:

  1. A set of 4 basic rules
  2. A diagram outlining the approach.

Firstly the 4 rules:

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 15.21.11

Let’s go through each in turn:

  • Design for feedback not reward – don’t think “I need to reward these guys, so they do what I want them to do” – you will fail to create a sustainable program. Instead ask, “how can I give better feedback?”
  • Focus on the player’s personal journey –  start with the player’s goal in mind – what do they want to achieve? Who do they want to become? i.e. if you are a retailer don’t offer a loyalty program – that’s ‘company centric’ thinking, instead offer feedback on “how much of a sustainable shopper I am” and coach me in how I can become more sustainable in my purchasing decisions.
  • Prioritise implicitly tracked metrics – in lightweight gamification, we don’t expect the player to adapt their behaviour to our program, we’re  humbler than that.  Instead, we track the activities they are already doing and provide better feedback for them against their intended goal.
  • Throttle the feedback to sustain engagement – don’t expect players to keep checking in and seeing instant, fast feedback,  in lightweight design thinking, we don’t expect our players to be that interested – instead we offer timely, throttled feedback at appropriate intervals. Our objective is to carve out 2 minutes of someone’s time each week to check where they stand on a leaderboard. That’s usually enough to help players optimise their behaviour on a regular cycle.

Now the diagram:

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 13.43.36

The diagram is split into two halves – upper and lower (above and below the arrow taking the player toward their goal).

In the upper half, we see lots of white space as the Player seeks to reach their Epic Goal through disciplined activity – to lose weight for example by dieting or to become a better Gamification expert through engaging in gamification conversations on social media…. there is little added that gets in the way of their goal – i.e. we’ve not added any new required behaviours.

In the lower half, we have the feedback we can give each player split into three levels – a novice leaderboard for those at the beginning of the journey, an enthusiast leaderboard where most people play and a master leaderboard at the end for the real maestros. At the top of each leaderboard (reaching a certain score / certain percentile) you can promote players to the next board (levelling up). You can award them a single badge for doing so.  Simply being on a leaderboard is in this case the badge, there is no need for a specific visual element. Though there’s no harm in having one if you want to create one. The leaderboard can be soft or hard and rendered in any way you like – i.e. as a leader cloud – it doesn’t have to be a straight competitive leaderboard it could be something simpler like – everyone who has achieved 100% of their quota.

The throttled regular feedback is a weekly or monthly notification sent from the leaderboards (via email / twitter) letting the player know how they are getting on.

We’ve put this technique to good use in the Exaleague where I’ve created 3 divisions and provided feedback to companies on their social media marketing progress.  You can see more on this in myslide deck on Lightweight Gamification.

You can use to implement this approach.  Contact us directly to request access to a 1 hour training session which will be done via webinar.

Finally, here’s a comparison table comparing lightweight and heavyweight gamification. I believe both approaches have their place – but lightweight definitely provides an awesome bang for buck and is a great place to start on your gamification journey.

Lightweight Gamification Heavyweight Gamification
Throttled, regular Feedback Rapid, instant feedback
Notify players via preferred channel (e.g. email, twitter) Notify players in application (e.g. pop up badges, points earned)
Low deployment overhead (quick to roll out) High cost of deployment (slow to roll out)
Limited gamification Comprehensive gamification
Can be designed and run by an individual / small team Requires a large team to design and run program
Great for day to day business scorekeeping Great for serious games