Engagement element: team competition

I’ve been amazed at how much engagement is generated when you put people onto teams and have them compete against other teams in a time-limited competition.

What makes this work so well? What are the conditions that help? Here’s a structure I’ve used. This structure is so effective, in fact, that when we implemented it for a company-wide internal play test, the biggest problems we were facing were burnout-related. People engaged so heavily that it wasn’t sustainable. So we actually had to think about how to slow them down.

  • It’s important to build your teams with people who feel aligned in some way. You want to get that tribal feeling going.
  • It’s also important that those team members have contact with one another. Every moment of contact is a chance for them to talk about this thing they have in common, which can activate an inactive player, reactivate someone who’s gone dormant, and heat up someone who’s already active.
  • The standings in the competition should be made public. Supply lots of data so there’s lots for people to look at and talk about. Storylines will be generated.
  • If possible, have the teams compete against other teams that they naturally have some rivalry with or at least separation from. Again, the tribalism thing.
  • Put a prize on the competition. It doesn’t have to be much. But players need an answer for themselves and for their interlocutors when the question “why are you doing this?” is raised.
  • Consider making the prize — or one of them — a donation to charity. This will help to fill in that “why do this” question with an answer that has an altruistic feel.
  • Let the competitors select the charity, and do it at the start of the competition. When you publish standings, take lots of opportunities to show the charity with each competitor. This will allow the chairty to become part of their identity.
  • Make it time limited. This gets you a lot of intensity and FOMO.


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