Let the Games Begin! Playing Mini-Games to Solve Business Challenges

by Lauren Risetter

Hi, I’m Lauren Risetter, Assistant Account Manager and GGOB Mini-Game Mastermind at Red Caffeine. I’ve helped imagine and implement two mini-games since coming aboard, which are short-term initiatives to help solve business challenges or reduce inefficiencies affecting our bottom line. Red Caffeine plays the Great Game of Business (GGOB). We operate under open book management, train all employees to be financially literate, and strive to leverage the entire team to fuel business growth and operational efficiency. If you want to learn more about how we implement the GGOB methodology overall, check out Kathy Steele’s BizCast video or Best Team Wins podcast. This post digs into the specifics of creating effective and engaging GGOB mini-games.

What is a Mini-Game?

All companies have operational or business inefficiencies to some degree. GGOB mini-games are actionable solutions to business problems that hinder maximum profitability. These games shouldn’t be too complex. Keep it simple, fun and to the point. My grandma is an excellent gardener. She’s patient, persistent and has that innate eye for cultivating beauty. The other weekend I helped pull weeds from her front flower bed. As we engaged in a nice conversation, her tone abruptly shifted from friendly banter to serious concern: “Stop! You need to dig deeper to get the roots. It’ll just come back if you pull it out that way.” This is my encouragement as you tackle a company pain point: STOP! Dig a little deeper until you find the root of the problem. And once you get to the source, only then can you address the issue.

With a Gardening Spade as Your Guide …

Channel your annoying inner child. Ask yourself and your fellow game planners ‘why’ over and over again until there’s nowhere else to go. We’re struggling to get our billings out on time. Why? Because our operations manager runs around the office like a chicken with her head chopped off asking people to complete the holes in their time sheets. Why? Because not everyone has a consistent habit of tracking their time and it all adds up by the end of the month. Why? Because we don’t have a clear deadline and expectation for when time needs to be logged. Why? STOP ASKING! I SWEAR THAT’S ALL I KNOW! This exercise is a glorious opportunity to ask way too many questions and get up close and personal with a seemingly complex issue. You probably know what your pain points are as a company, but articulating or explaining those problems for what they truly are can be the real struggle.

#TheStruggleIsReal: Start at the Beginning

Establish a basic mini-game framework:

  1. Pick a target area or pain point
  2. Set a specific and measurable improvement goal
  3. Only include players who can make meaningful impact
  4. Timeframe for game play should be no less than 1 month and no more than 3 months
  5. Keep track of the score and regularly share it with the players
  6. Give players a stake in the game -- choose rewards people actually care about
  7. Set your team up for success -- don’t create games with little hope of winning
  8. Collaboration is key! Avoid pitting individuals against one another. GGOB mini-games should encourage collaboration and teamwork

Once the framework is in place, source it out to key team members for feedback and suggestions to make it even better. Farmers work in silos – not successful business teams. Leverage the power of collaboration in the game creation process by pulling in key stakeholders who you’ll need buy-in from anyway.

Add a Splash of Creativity

Without a breath of life, your mini-game will quickly get the kiss of death. Once you’ve confirmed the goals and essential framework, let your imagination go wild! Have fun picking a theme and engineering the logistics of the mini-game.

**WARNING: Mini-games should be fun, not cheesy. Beware … the line between employee engagement and lactose intolerance is easily curdled. Your coworkers are (hopefully) smart lads and lasses. Don’t insult their intelligence with a game that’s ultra boring or demeaning. Mini-games should evoke a mentality of genuine problem solving, teamwork and collaboration.

The best way to get people engaged with a mini-game is to …

  1. Make it collaborative (avoid pitting people against one another or calling people out for falling short)
  2. Clearly communicate the business objective of the game (why are you tackling that specific issue? If we fix the issue, what real impact would it have on profitability and success? How would this change make people’s jobs/lives easier?)
  3. Get buy-in from key stakeholders (get others excited so you’re not the solo-promoter)
  4. Choose rewards people actually want to win
  5. Engagement litmus test: Are you bored creating the game? Ahhhh, jump ship, my friend! That’s a bad sign. Would you find the mini-game exciting if your boss made you compete in it? If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. 

I’ll admit, I’m quirky and have a droll sense of humor. The element of surprise is my friend. From participating in epic college lecture pranks to hiding googly eyes random places for friends to find later, the world is my creative oyster. If that’s not your natural outlook on life, there’s still hope for you to create a mini-game that doesn’t completely suck. It all goes back to finding the root why and then letting your mind wander through all the potential connections it can fathom. My best ideas are born from momentary suspension of logic. No constraints, total freedom, endless possibilities. Once I find something inspiring, then I get strategic and find ways to come back to reality. Trying to create greatness within rigid constraints will likely yield limited, unoriginal ideas. It’s much easier to condense a grand vision than make a crappy idea palatable.

Sample Mini-Game: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Red Caffeine has a softball team, the Brew Crew, in a local softball league. Softball has become a beloved aspect of our company culture. When creating this mini-game, our season was just ramping up and was the talk of the office, making it a timely theme to play off … The framework:

  • Players: All full-time employees at Red Caffeine
  • Target area: Improved time-tracking habits – individuals have their time for the previous week logged before Monday at 9:00 am
  • Measurable goal: Everyone regularly logging time, on-time, every week
  • Why it matters: When people don’t log their time for the previous week, it slows down our operational process (billings, projections, estimates, internal and external communications about project progress, etc.). This ultimately impacts our line of sight into profitability, resource allocation, and bandwidth across the agency.
  • Timeframe: We played for 7 weeks to mimic the 7 innings in our Lombard Park District softball games. One week was one ‘inning’ of the game.
  • Keeping score: For every four people who logged time, the Brew Crew got 1 point. For every one person who failed to log time, the Non-Lagers got 1 point. Not logging time had a heavier weight to reinforce the impact that just one person has on the rest of the agency. We bought a cheap scoreboard to hang next to the office kitchen for the duration of the mini-game. I’d also write a witty play-by-play email on Monday afternoons to announce the score.
  • Stake in the game: If we won, we would bring a food truck to the office
  • Collaboration: We didn’t call out individuals for not logging their time to avoid pitting people against one another. The game was baseball-themed, which led to a team-oriented messaging and energy.

Red-Caffeine-GGOB-Mini-Game-Score-Update The game was easy to understand and didn’t require much time outside of what people were already supposed to spend logging their time. I tried to add humor to keep it engaging, hence the punny opponent name: Brew Crew v. Non-Lagers … Mom, I told you studying English would pay off someday! And since everyone gets way too many emails already, I wanted to keep the content of the score updates worth reading. Trying to be more intentional about playing Great Game of Business mini-games at your company? The Red Caffeine team is passionate about helping other companies achieve business growth and a culture of employee engagement. Get in touch! Are you a Great Game player and have some ideas for gamifying business improvements? Leave a comment about what has worked well for your team!