Sunday, March 11, 2007

NCAA Productivity Games

Tonight marks the release of the 2007 NCAA Tournament Men's College BB field of 64 (women's is to be released tomorrow), prefaced by a host of articles on the lost productivity brought on by office pools.

Seattle Denver Philadelphia Fort Wayne Longmont

According to some studies, 23% of companies have office pools, and the cost of lost productivity is over a billion dollars. Several articles suggest that employers are happy with the "morale benefits", saying that it builds camaraderie and fosters closer relationships between staff members.

Perhaps the answer is to integrate the everyday tasks of "real work" into the fantasy of the office pool. According to one survey, employees spend over 13 mins a day checking scores.

Why not openly post results, but attach metrics and measures related to real work to the results of the pool?

For example, an insurance company might hold a contest to allow claims processors to fill out one bracket per 10 claim forms processed. Highway patrol gets a final four pick for every 5 speeding tickets written J School bus drivers get an entry for every kid delivered safely to and from school.

The point of productivity games is to align the game with the goals of the organization, and if people are spending their work time checking NCAA results, then integrate that behavior into the task at hand.

This provides a brief opportunity to explain the difference between aligned games and incidental games.


Productivity games that are played while pursuing the goals of the task are called "Aligned" games. An example of an aligned game for a janitor might be to see how many garbage cans can be emptied in an hour. NCAA tournament picks that are awarded as a result of doing a task in line with company goals might be "aligned" games.


Incidental games are played during the course of work and do not contribute or directly affect the outcome or accomplishment of the task. Incidental games probably will help improve morale, keep people from straying too far off task, and may foster community. However, they do not directly relate to the goals of the job. An example might be a hotel maid who lines up pillows in certain patterns from room to room, or a truck driver who waves to Volvo wagons for the fun of it. These incidental games keep people thinking and minds working, but do not necessarily improve output. NCAA tournament watching - as it is today - is a great example of an incidental game.