Online Games- Team Builder or Time Waster?

Last Updated Sep 7, 2010 9:40 AM EDT

In a recent post about helping your virtual team celebrate, one of my readers suggested playing online games as a way to build camaraderie with your remote employees and teammates. I snorted with derision, since playing computer gamesis pretty much my idea of Purgatory, although killing zombies might have application in parts of HR.

Apparently (and not surprisingly) I've been told I'm wrong -- online games are used to build teams and develop skills in new and fun ways.Because I always want to get smarter, I asked Scott Randall, Founder and CEO of BrandGames a few questions about online gaming and skill development- what works and what doesn't?

How can online gaming, especially multiplayer games actually help remote teams work better together?
Like 'Flight Simulators' for culture and complex processes, self-led multiplayer learning Sims (simulations, not the computer game of that name) and games help remote teams learn to work together with limited face-to-face contact by delivering message consistency and allowing collaborative skills and teamwork practice in a risk-free environment . Multiplayer environments enable teams to work towards shared goals while being coached and scored based on performance. The grow to learn how to delegate based on skills and navigate group dynamics.

For key learning initiatives, underwhelming e-learning courseware don'tdo the job. Delivering talent communications (performance management, skills training and professional development) in a medium that today's workforce finds more engaging than any other earns high levels of participation, knowledge retention and behavior change.

Are there advantages of web and online games as a learning device?
Translating the dynamics of business into challenging, immersive and educational experiences has 2 key benefits:
They Can Be More Effective: • You get message consistency and institutionalization of best practices
• There's a shared experience for all participants
• You create common context and orientation across the organization
• You harness the competitive spirit to drive engagement and knowledge retention

They Can Be More Efficient:
• Done well, they Improve speed to competency
• They reduce executive travel/time and need for oversight and facilitation
• They teach skills in a risk free environment preventing expensive lapses in the marketplace
• You can create and measure metrics on compliance and comprehension for individuals and companywide

What about those of us who hate video games? I'd rather put my eyes out with a spork than play most games I've seen.
Most of today's work force â€" those 50 and under -- grew up in a computerized world, have conducted their careers with PCs . Most commercial videogames target a narrow - but large - segment of the population who play videogames on consoles created around familiar themes and with familiar goals. The only thing custom learning games for nurses, investment bankers and accountants have in common is that they're designed specifically to engage the audience they are designed to reach. The key to creating games that resonate with the training audience is to understand who the audience is and what its orientation to computers and games is and design from there.
While some Baby Boomers still see games as toys... today's employees have been playing complex videogames since childhood. They desire different goals...think differently about their careers, their companies and their co-workers, how they take risks, compete and fit into teams. Research shows that growing up with games and their powerful interactivity gives them a significant and verifiably different set of skills from their predecessors and different behaviors in media consumption.

Properly designed, training games and Sims (simulations, not the game oif that name) are designed to be highly relevant to the audience. It's not about war and zombies. It's about your, job, your life, your success. It's about You. These games articulate company tone and culture, codify business processes, job roles and best practices, in a way that is highly relevant for all target employees. Before the ' fun stuff' (developing multimedia Simulations), ourprocess starts with message articulation and alignment. Learning content needs to be translated to work effectively in the game format.

How do you show Return on Investment? To be able to track progress and understand what participants understand. we design the program's back-end data-reporting structure to deliver output of results; time spent playing and other metrics for assessment or review by management.

What games and online activities have you seen get the job done to develop teams and bring them together when travel isn't an option?