How to Get Better Corporate Training Results with Gamification

Creating competition during training events for better retention

By Jakub Szypulka (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Boredom, Punch Buggy, and Corporate Training

By Emiichann (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

People hate boredom.

They really, really hate it, in fact, sometimes going so far as to shock themselves to avoid it:

“Finally, Prof Wilson’s team did the electric shock experiment to try to find out if quiet, solo thinking was unpleasant enough that people would actually prefer something nasty to happen. Sure enough, 18 of 42 people, more of them men than women, chose to give themselves at least one mild shock on the ankle when left alone for 15 minutes.”

So where do you think corporate training ranks on the boredom scale? What do you think is going through your attendees’ minds as they watch another PowerPoint on the proper way to add a Form 1098 into the new software? Or while they watch a 1989 video on corporate malfeasance because Larry can’t be trusted to handle a big client on his own?

Yeah. They’re bored.

But there’s hope.

Just as we used games to entertain ourselves in the back of the station wagon when we were kids (we all did that, right?), we can use games to make corporate training not just entertaining, but more informative.

“Gaming is not merely a global phenomenon for entertainment, but also a strategic direction to more effectively engage and prepare the emerging workforce through rich, realistic, immersive learning environments where developing the knowledge, skill and competencies to master the game is directly aligned with the performance needed to excel on-the-job.”

That’s the opening paragraph in a summary of an introduction to IBM’s Smart Play Framework, which they developed because “most people intuitively understand that when we play, we learn.”

With resources like IBM’s, and an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to increased productivity from gamification, it’s no wonder IBM has created such a powerful and elaborate framework around the concept.

But you don’t have to have IBM’s resource to take advantage of gamification.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Conflict Resolution

If you’re running a seminar on conflict resolution, you’ve got a distinct advantage on your side — the word “conflict” is baked right into your topic, and we human beings find conflict fascinating.

So let’s play it up.

Create a list of five scenarios in which conflict is the dominating theme, asking your audience how they would defuse the situation, using live polling to record their answers.

These could be multiple choice questions if you’re going for a straightforward yes or no, but you could take it next-level with open-ended answers, or even use Poll Everywhere’s brainstorming feature to let your audience upvote the best answers.

The gaming possibilities are up to you: the obvious choice is a prize for the answer with the most upvotes, or a cumulative prize for the person with the most points over each of the five scenarios (with a points system determined by you beforehand).

Software Training

With every new software tool comes a learning curve. Whether your accounting team has adopted new tax software or your DevOps team is learning the ins and outs of a new project management system, it’ll take some time to get to the proficiency levels needed to see real productivity gains.

A training seminar is the perfect way to standardize practices and make sure everyone is on a level playing field.

Use gaming here, too, to create competition. List a set of challenges starting from a basic skills level (“Find and fill out form 443-B for customer Keanu Reeves) to advanced (“Find the total deductions for intergalactic travel for Company X based on Forms Y and Z”), again using a points system to tally the day’s results. Use a sliding scale: award a few points for the easier exercises, and more for the challenging stuff.

Here, too, you can use polling to make things simpler: just have attendees reply to a poll with their name as soon as they complete the exercise to keep track of who finished when.

Strategic Business Planning

For training events or seminars that cover multiple days, you have a little room to get creative. Looking for new revenue streams or budget-cutting initiatives? Break your audience into groups, challenging them to come up with new ways to improve the bottom line.

Depending on your time constraints, you may want to allow an hour for this, or you may ask teams to get together in their off-hours to submit their best plan the following day. If possible, be ready to estimate the amount of revenue generated or saved (obviously this will be a very rough estimate), awarding the team that saves the most cash the grand prize.


Gamification works because it takes human nature into account when applying learning techniques, something that’s been sorely missing from corporate training doldrum for decades.

“Just as many industries benefited from the principles of industrial design, and interface design, and experience design…smart businesses and industries will quickly learn and adapt the principles of game design (“or game mechanics”). Game design indeed has broad utility for learning and development, for changing health behaviors, and for motivating at-work behaviors, among other things.” ~ The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education by Karl M. Knapp

Challenge your employees, make it fun, and you’ll create a more productive, more engaged, and more thankful workforce.