For Better Collaboration, Try Fantasy Role Playing

Want to learn the latest management theory on collaboration? Then log on to an Internet fantasy role–playing game and create your own 3-D avatar.

That’s what Jack Emmert, creative director for Cryptic Studios in Los Gatos, Calif., advises. Emmert created the hit game City of Heroes, in which thousands of online players dress and arm their 3-D superhero avatar characters to do battle against thugs, robots and monsters. The twist: The best way for players to advance to the next level is to collaborate to vanquish criminals. Emmert programmed incentives into the game to encourage teamwork and continued subscriptions (at $14.99 per month).

Executives can use similar incentives, Emmert says, to encourage collaboration at work. His advice:

¿ Foster individuality. In games, if players can express their individuality (by say, choosing special clothing), they also will want to join a group to express the group’s formed identity. In the workplace, give those executives with the most to gain from a successful project the tools to design and personalize the new system. "Let them make it their own," Emmert says.

¿ Provide frequent rewards, and praise groups. Game designers provide some type of reward to players every 90 seconds on average to keep players engaged in the game. In the workplace, provide small rewards frequently (monthly perhaps) that not only keep workers engaged in a project but also reward group behavior.

¿ Make rewards personal. In online games, if a reward is clearly relevant to the character, players will play longer. Give rewards that reflect an employee’s personal tastes or lifestyle.

"People don’t like to be told to be in a group," Emmert says. "You have to create the incentives and rewards that will make it their decision that working in a group works to their advantage."

NEW! Download the State of the CIO 2017 report