Games at Work: How to Win Friends and Influence Salespeople

Jen Sader on February 12, 2019

I’ve been in the learning field for a long time, but I’m new to Root. One of the great things about working here is that sometimes work doesn’t feel like work. A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to help test a game developed for one of our clients. Yes, I was asked to play a game at work!

I’m not talking about Monopoly or Scattergories. We played a custom board game designed by Root’s Simulations and Gaming team to help an organization’s sales professionals hone their strategies for working with clients. As a learning designer, I don’t have a lot of direct experience with sales, but my colleagues didn’t need sales experts to comment on the game’s content; they needed to test whether the game was engaging and whether all the parts were working together. I was happy to volunteer my time.

Our guides started off by putting us into teams of two players. Each team was asked to make a marketing plan and to choose how to spend our time (represented by turns in the game). Client data and insights were incorporated throughout in the consequences of our actions, and as we played, we realized that what we thought of as typical sales strategies weren’t the best way to win.

We all started the game by offering discounts and promotions to move our product, but soon realized that some reduced our margins to the point where we made no profit or even lost money. We learned to balance our strategies so we could keep the customer happy and still make good business decisions, and made smarter choices about how we spent our time.

Less flashy strategies, like building our skills and using data to make our sales meetings more successful, had impacts that built over time. My team chose to invest in those strategies early in the game, and while we lagged behind the others at first, we pulled ahead and stayed there after a couple of rounds. We high-fived each other when we had the best overall results at the end.

The Power of Games for Learning

I’ve been thinking about the power of that learning experience ever since. Sure, the same information could have been conveyed in a PowerPoint deck or a speech, but it wouldn’t have given me the mindset change that came from having to discover it for myself. There’s something powerful about actively applying information in real-time – it’s just not the same as sitting and listening or reading about it. And a PowerPoint deck certainly wouldn’t have created a team experience that enabled me to have fun with my peers. Besides being plain old fun, learning through games has two other great benefits:

  1. Games create the opportunity for discovery-based learning.
  2. Games empower players to become owners of the new insights presented to them.

Discovery-Based Learning

As someone whose career has been all about learning, I was impressed by how effectively and efficiently my teammate and I could learn while having fun. The friendly competition motivated us to explore all options – carefully evaluating our next move so we could find a possible edge. The role of chance, which is so often part of real-life situations, was simulated with dice and event cards, and we worked hard to make sure that we could succeed even in the worst-possible scenario. After the first round, teams were able to adjust their strategies to incorporate new learning. We all were on the edge of our seats to see what would happen next.

Ownership

As Jim Haudan wrote in The Art of Engagement, learning is most effective when it engages people in thinking about their business and challenging their own assumptions. The game allowed us to develop our own hunches about what would work and then test them in a way that provided immediate feedback.

We owned what we had learned through our efforts. It wasn’t simply “in one ear and out the other.” We were truly engaged in the new information the game was “teaching” us. If I were a sales professional at that company, you can bet I’d apply what I learned through this game to help me win the business without giving away the store!

Should Playing Games at Work Become the Norm?

My career taught me long ago that learning could be fun. But experiencing this game as a player – and not as a designer – was a nice reminder that those of us in the L&D space should always approach things with this mindset. Self-discovery and ownership are two powerful elements for any learning initiative. And a well-designed game can incorporate both these things – and lots more!

I’m not saying that workshops and other, more traditional learning strategies should be completely replaced with games, as both can play effective parts in a learning strategy. But in this case, a game was a perfect fit for the client’s learning goals.

Has your organization done something out of the ordinary to help your team thrive? I’d love to hear what’s working for you! Comment below.

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