Gamification for High Performing Teams- with Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks

Jan 17, 2023

Strategic hiring retention of top candidates are vital to mitigating risks and meeting goals. So, how can employers differentiate their talent development offerings to attract, develop, and retain the best employees? In todays business world, high-performing teams are more important than ever- that’s where the use of games enters the workplace.

 Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks is the Founder and CEO of tech startup KeepWOL. KeepWOL's fun learning platform for teams enables employee engagement and retention insights using games. The platform uses multiplayer web-based games, assessments, and personalized educational content to deeply understand employees, improve soft skills, build inclusive teams, and revitalize corporate culture. 

Listen to Lauren and I discuss these topics on the Employment Experience Podcast:

7:02: Cultural intelligence and how games can help achieve diversity;

9:23: How games help production, connect teams, increase morale and keep invested employees;

11:07: How the KeepWOL games can collect metrics to aid in professional development;

12:37: Why gamification provides more employee engagement information than employee surveys;

21:00 How the games are played

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Karly Wannos: [00:00:00] In a competitive employment market, the strength of your people is intricately linked to positive business outcomes. Strategic hiring and deployment of top candidates and retaining them long after they're onboarded are vital to mitigating risks, meeting goals, objectives, and future proofing for continued. 

Talent development has long been considered a core strategic initiative to encourage and empower a company's workforce. But now we are seeing that old tactics no longer work. So how can employers differentiate their talent development offerings in order to attract, develop, and retain the absolute best employees? 

Many of today's top companies are now turning to games and artificial intelligence, which may elevate the human experience and maximize cultural intelligence in the workplace. On today's episode of the Employment Experience Podcast, I'd like to introduce you to [00:01:00] Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks, c e o, and founder of Keep Wall. 

That's w o l. Keep wandering out loud. Keep Wall as a game centric talent development platform for teams. . That means every employee where they are in today's business world teams are more important than ever. But building high performing teams can be difficult, and that's where gamification comes in. 

Through games and challenges, businesses can use gamification to create inclusive team environments. That encourage collaboration and performance. In this podcast, we are going to be discussing how gamification can help your team achieve success. By incorporating games and elements into team building exercises, your business can create a fun, engaging environment that results in high performing employees. 

Lauren, thank you so much for being here and welcome to the show.  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Thank you for having me, Karly. I'm really excited to  

Karly Wannos: be here . Absolutely. I am so excited to have you here. I'm so excited to talk more about something [00:02:00] fun and exciting games in the workplace. This is the Employment Experience podcast, and we talk about employment law and the laws, which can be dry sometimes, right? 

But today we're talking about games, which is. Super fun, and I am so excited to hear from you as to why and how games are helpful in the workplace and how companies can achieve success using games with its employees. And we are going to get into all of that as well as your company Keep Wall. But first I know I read somewhere you have a very impressive background, so I just wanted to get a little bit of information on you, your background and how you became the founder and CEO of Keep. 

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yes, that's a great question. So I often get asked this question because my background is in aerospace engineering and Keep WO is an HR tech startup. And so often people are like, how'd you go from aerospace engineering to HR tech? And so it's very interesting because just for identification purposes, I am a millennial and [00:03:00] it's just a known fact that millennials and Gen Zers spend less than about three years. 

Different company, and I understand this all too well because as a female and an engineer and also as the first black woman to graduate from the University of Kansas' Aerospace Engineering Department, I actually worked at five different Fortune 500 companies over the span of 14 years. And so that's about, on average, a little less than three years. 

For me, no one in my industry was able to relate to me just from an identification purposes, from coming in, being young in the industry, being a woman in the industry, et cetera. So I had to create a solution that allowed me to be able to connect with people at a deeper level beyond just what you can immediately see on the surface. 

And that's where Keep wool came to light. It wasn't just for being in the workplace, but also with being in the industry I was in. Working at these different companies. [00:04:00] I was moving a lot and I was traveling and relocating. And so building these connections in new places and personal and work life was very important and it just led me down this path of how do we make this next generation type of relationship building, human connection, collaboration type of tool, and that's how Keep was  

Karly Wannos: Born. 

That totally makes sense and I love that story. So you have an engineering background, so that kind of explains how you got into, a little bit of the tech and technology and building out a platform, right? Yes.  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yes. Correct.  

Karly Wannos: And so did you have a HR or employment background, or you just experienced this because of your personal experiences and with. 

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yeah, that's a really great question. So my mother is in HR and she's been a VP of HR for the bulk of my life. So in been like an HR management, VP of hr. Both of my parents have master degrees in human resources. So it wasn't ever a path that I necessarily [00:05:00]thought, oh, this is a career path I plan on going down, but I always was surrounded by it. 

And anytime that I. Workplace issues or something happening in the workplace. I was talking to my mother about it and. I think it was inherently in me. And then I did do staffing management work, program management work. So really dealing a lot with people and being a people leader. 

And so seeing the different elements of that, of being a people leader, but also being an individual contributor, but also hearing about the backend of what's happening in these bigger organizations from a HR perspective, and then knowing from as. as a employee, how I would feel about, oh, is the HR department for me, or isn't it for me? 

And things I think, What I've learned a lot when talking to our customers and who we sell to, but also end users is, hey, it's really cool that someone who wasn't brought up and got education and has been in [00:06:00] HR this whole time has developed this solution because it's bringing perspectives from all the different. 

areas and backgrounds you can have in one. But then we also have a team full of people who have been in the HR space or outside of the HR space. So we really wanted to be that melding pot of building a solution that isn't just contributing or doing a different spin on the status quo, but really changing the way we approach how we build relationships and how we develop talent in the work. 


Karly Wannos: So that makes sense. I knew that there was some connection to your background there, aside from just the fact that you had worked at different companies. So it's your parents' connection that explains all of it, and then Absolutely. So what are the goals of, and we're gonna get into what, what the games are and how they work and everything like that. 

But I'm, I wanna talk about the importance of playing games at. . And you know what it achieves for a company. I saw on your [00:07:00] website one of the goals is to maximize cultural intelligence. So tell me a little bit about cultural intelligence in the workplace from your perspective and why that's so important and how games can come into play to achieve that. 

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yeah, that's a really good question. So cultural intelligence, often we're hearing about diversity, equity, inclusion, right? And when people think about diversity, equity, inclusion, when they think about it from a HR perspective, they're typically thinking about it from a recruitment standpoint, and they're thinking about. 

What different type of quotas do I wanna meet for these ethnicity, demographics, what do we wanna meet from a gender, different demographics, and in a lot of cases, but it's getting better now. It was just get the people in the door and we're not thinking too much more about. How do we integrate these people into this workplace? 

How do we ensure that we are providing the resources that they need in the way that they need them to be most successful? How are we understanding[00:08:00] the background of these people and how they're coming in and what a. Approaches to solutions they take. And so when we talk cultural intelligence, we're now living in this world where we're in this hybrid, remote type of world of globally dispersed teams of people of more generations in the workforce than we've ever seen before. 

And that's what we're really talking about with cultural intelligence, understanding the background, the path traveled that people are coming to the table with, and how do we best support and meet every individual and every employee where they are to ensure that. We are building a per environment that is going to help everyone thrive and meet their highest potential rather than a one size fits all. 

Or we have this rainbow coalition of how people look, but people aren't happy because they're not feeling valued, appreciated, respected, understood. And so that's what we really mean about cultural intelligence and helping to. [00:09:00] really have a deep understanding of where people come from, how they think, and how to best support them. 

Karly Wannos: Okay. And so having this understanding, is that coming through the interaction? Of playing of the game or is that through another type of assessment that's offered through the platform?  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yes. That is a great question. It's coming through the interaction of playing the game. So with Keep Wool, which stands for, keep wondering Out Loud. 

We use a play, reflect and grow process that is a culmination of. Team building analytics and upskilling. And so the play portion of this, the playing of the game, which are games, are psychology based games that emphasize storytelling to really understand and illuminate how people think and what they need. 

And highlight some different gaps or blind spots that we might have that we need development in. And we ha that is the play portion that's bringing about these. Contextualize nuanced insights that allow us to figure [00:10:00] out, okay, what's the scalability of a solution that we can provide from person to person, to team to organization wide? 

And so that first component of the play is about the game, but then you have reflecting on this because you really don't recognize how much you've learned through gameplay until you reflect. And so it's reflecting on it, but then there's. Two that's attached to that's focused on grow helping you reach those different goal areas that you've now had the epiphany or realization that, hey, this is a area I wanna develop in, or I wanna see my team develop in. 

So we're providing the team building aspect of the get to know you, betterment of your team dynamics and understanding of each other. The analytics where we're collecting metrics after each game is played. And so we collect metrics in. Key areas which include engagement based on the definition of each individual's definition of engagement, not just this overarching, this is what engagement means cuz it means something [00:11:00] different to all of us. 

So engagement, innovation. Cultural intelligence, team dynamics, and then job satisfaction. And these five key areas are areas that we selected, mainly because we know these are major contributing factors to if a employee remains at or leaves any given organization. So you have the play that's getting nuanced information for these five areas. 

We're taking measurements in those. Measurement areas after each game is played, but also on a quarterly basis. And then also with the reflection we're taking a look at what's your individual and personal goals, and then we provide you right fit educational content in your preferred learning style to help you in developing those goals. 

So really providing that well-rounded talent development solution that's emphasizing not only a team environment, because that's, people remain at an organization for their manager and the work environment that they're in day in and day out, but also [00:12:00] helping you to up-level your skills and your abilities. 

Karly Wannos: Okay, great. And so a lot of companies are wondering, how do we. Hire and retain top talent, right? And how do we keep people engaged? And I feel like the kind of old school way of doing it is to create have them fill out a form, right? , have them fill something out, say check the box. 

What do you like, what do you not like? Give suggestions. But a lot of people are hesitant to do that, right? Because they feel like it might backfire or it's not anonymous, or they don't feel like participating. But games is a way to get that feedback, get that interaction. And give the support that you need to give to your employees so that they feel nurtured and, they feel heard and that they're developing professionally, because that's another big one too. 

In order to keep, it's like a, it's like a new way of doing the old, what is it? I'm calling it the form, but it's called something else. Like the employee  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: engagement surveys.  

Karly Wannos: The employee engagement survey, exactly. . Yeah. So is [00:13:00] that basically a new like updated, upgraded. way of doing that is what I'm hearing. 

And more fun.  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yeah. 100%. So way more fun and way more contextualized. And speaking of what you were sa stating, like with the employee engagement surveys, people might have a different perspective on them if they felt like they saw immediate changes based on the information that they gave in the surveys. 

But often you take a survey at one point in the year, you might hear back from them three months, six months later of, oh, here's the results and here's like the action plan. We, and this is like on a good case, , here's the action plan that we came up with. But then you're still. , okay. I saw the plan, but I still didn't ever see anything go in action and with keep wool and with games in general. 

So if we put aside the platform that I've developed and that my team developed, but if we're thinking about games in general, [00:14:00] if we think about it, like when we're playing games, we're all starting on that equal footing level. And when you're doing this employee engagement survey, you already have these preconceived notions like, is this really anonymous? 

Who's gonna be reading it? Do I feel this comfortable? Like how much insight are they gonna give to my manager? Oh, it has a strongly degree strongly agree or strongly disagree. And then it has a comment section, but the comment section isn't required. So I'm probably just not gonna put a comment or I'm gonna put a comment, but I'm either gonna go way into detail or I'm not gonna go into detail. 

And then con context gets lost because you're not talking to a. You're typing. People can't read tone, so they interpret their own tone for it. So there's all these different. barriers to that, that you don't get the deep understanding of where someone's coming from. But if you think about something in a game instance, and you're thinking about it in for our games specifically, we have storytelling games. 

So it's emphasizing it, [00:15:00] question and answer, but you're starting on this equal level of playing of footing. And also your leadership. If you're playing on a team, your manager's also going to be playing that game. So it's not. Oh, I'm playing the game and then my manager's judging me. It's, Nope. Your manager. 

Oh, everybody plays team. Yes, exactly. So each of us have the opportunity to win. And that's really what's great about like gaming principles in psychology is we all wanna win. I've never met a person who's I wanna lose. Like even if you. Identify as not being super competitive. You're not gonna be like, I wanna lose, right? 

So when you come into a game, you're gonna put your best foot forward and games ta So games tap into that like reward center that typically requires. Quick thinking. And so that quick thinking then disarms us. And games also come with the whole luck of the draw mentality with them. So it allows us to be free while still having elements of control, because games [00:16:00] require strategy. 

So you get to like strategically decide how you're gonna approach something, but then there's randomization and you can't prepare for it really. And there's just a lot of ambiguity of games that bring out our authentic. . So when we're playing it, we're being more authentic. Then if you look at an engagement survey and you're deciding, okay, how do I feel today? 

Am I really loving my job and the people around me? Or was today a really crappy day? And so now my survey is gonna reflect that, but it's not reflecting the overall encompassing of what the environment and situation has been, but with the game and with the prompts that can come from a. you can tap into. 

Are we talking about today? Are we talking about six months ago? Are we talking about last year? It's also giving you measurements for that specific game and with the recurring manner of a game, you're able to get those pin, like those data points of insights rather than this once a year. Or biannually type of situation that just has no con context [00:17:00] to it. 

Ooh, with what you had stated, it's very much yes, a way better way of doing your employee engagement, yearly assessments, the survey,  

Karly Wannos: That word that I couldn't remember. So you just said a lot of really great stuff there. And so going back to the survey really quickly, the survey. , in my opinion, backfires a lot because you get the survey and people put time and they might put time and effort into it. 

And then a lot of times, I will tell you, companies do not. Implement anything. They say, no, we can't do that. That's too expensive. That's not important. This only applies to this one person and not the majority of the people. Thanks for the feedback, but we're not going to do anything with it. And it backfires because then the employee says, number one, why did I just waste my time? 

And number two, they clearly don't care about me or the information that I gave because they're not doing anything right. So it's. Sometimes it can be, obviously employee engagement surveys can be very helpful. But sometimes if the company's not going to take [00:18:00] action or consider taking action, it can be very harmful and backfire. 

And as you were saying all this, I'm thinking the games, you're collecting the data and you're able to make improvements and make changes within in the company based upon the information that you receive. But during the time the employees, Still playing the game. So even if for some reason, at the end of the day you decide not to take action or implement whatever, based upon the data, they still did something fun. 

They still did a team building exercise and got to interact with their coworkers. Exactly. Which is going to create that level of employee engagement that everybody is looking  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: for. . What's really interesting about you, what you just said too, is when you think about the employee engagement surveys, they're done in a silo, right? 

Like you are answering that just for yourself. But when you're playing these games, our games are interactive and they're team wide, so they're done live, and so now it's you are, it's not only a, oh, Lauren is thinking this way, or only lo, this only applies to Lauren, or this only applies to [00:19:00]Karly. There are instances where you're now. 

Oh no, we've all been thinking this. I thought it was just me or the leaders seeing oh, I thought that it might've just been Lauren, or I thought it might've just been me, but I see my whole team is experiencing this. But it also allows for a situation where you can see what you as a team, what you as that function or even business unit, however high up you can go, can do to solve some of these problems. 

While employee engagement surveys are typically. Organization wide. So what can we do for the masses rather than for this individual like team or unit? And so that's why we really focused at the functional team level that also proliferates across the organization, but really focusing at that functional team level because now, , you even feel like you have more control of your destiny in the environment, in the workplace that you are focused on day in and day [00:20:00] out, rather than with these employee engagement surveys where it's I don't even know it went into the ether. 

I don't know who's even reviewing this and making decisions.  

Karly Wannos: Okay. So let's talk about the games itself. It sounds like from what you're saying, they can be totally customizable for your industry or specific company. Is that 

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: right? Yes. So I can talk a little bit more about the games. Okay. And like how it's played. 

So Keep Wall itself, we house a library of psychology-based games that emphasize storytelling. So I mentioned that earlier. But we currently have a total of 17 games that fall under five themes. So we call these stock games. So games that already exist. So anyone, as soon as you. Get on the platform, you can immediately start playing. 

And so our the five themes that they fall under are engagement and morale. So really that like team building get to know you at a personal level type of games. Then we have diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging games. So it's really talking about your path [00:21:00] travel, where you've come from, how you became the person. 

That you are and how that shows up in your day-to-day work environment, but also your personal life. Then we have team development games that are focused on the dynamics of the team. So oftentimes when we hear team building, we're thinking about what's the entertainment aspect? Are we going to happy hour? 

Are we doing an escape room? Are we doing something that's like fun and we're like, team building can be fun, but also. Great value and insights from a dynamics perspective as well. And so we have a whole theme of games that's focused on team development. So you're forming, norming, performing stages of team development, risk and opportunities, stuff like that. 

We also have professional development games, so not only the current job you're in, but where do you wanna go. And then we have games that fall under leadership. So those games that are focused on becoming those people leaders within your organization. So those are the five themes, but speaking to which, what you had said, we work with [00:22:00] clients to customize games based on the needs that they currently have. 

So for example, we worked in partnership with Mayo Clinic that was looking to have a game that is. On the social determinants of health. And so we created a game that had that focus area. But for us, we take a look at all our games and we're like, how do we create this to make it industry agnostic? 

So that game that was like very much focused for them on the social determinants of health then became a game that we were able to utilize under our diversity equity inclusion. Theme and that was focused on like awareness and action. And so even things that we take a look at and we're like, oh, this could be very much niche in a oftentimes just. 

The reconstruction of a few words and things like that enable it to be more agnostic. But our games are very much customizable in the sense that we actually, in Q1 of 2023, we're rolling out a new [00:23:00] feature that's enabling our clients. To be able to create their own games utilizing our methodology, but based on training content that they're focused, that they've developed internally. 

So basically turning your static training content into a keep wall game that's more interactive, functional, and allows for the discussion of understanding of it rather than just you're a standard PowerPoint or you're e training or e. . Oh, that's really  

Karly Wannos: cool. I like that. How often and at what times companies should implement the games, like from the beginning, during onboarding, and then do, are they rolling them out consistently through the year or what is, what's your recommendations on  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: that? 

Yeah, so that's a great question. Too, so we actually provide pathways for what different type of gains you could be utilizing, but we also are focused on allowing to. Teams to really be the people who guide the path [00:24:00] of where they're going. So how our platform is set up is that you could say, I wanna do this pathway and these are the games we're gonna be playing and we're gonna play biweekly or monthly or bimonthly. 

So we do recommend a cadence that's a regular cadence. Most of our clients do biweekly or monthly, but some do on a bimonthly basis. And so you have this regular cadence. But we also like, ensure that if if you have this six game program pathway and now you're playing on a monthly basis, you have six month worth of game, then you might go to another pathway. 

But if you do it on the reverse side where the team is leading that, they play a game, and in our reflection assessment, it asks the question. When do you, what area do you think the team should focus on next? And then when do you think they should play next? So now the team is saying, Hey, this week we did an engagement morale game, but I really think we should focus on innovation, or, I really think that we should focus on team development. 

And so then [00:25:00] the next game that's chosen is based on the majority of votes that come in. Specific theme area and then when they'd like to play for our pathways, like going back to what you had asked about with regards to when to start, we have pathways that are focused on new teams. We have ones that are focused on established teams. 

So you've been together for a while and you're trying to embark on more. Creative and innovative ways of thinking. But we also have pathways that are focused on disconnected teams. So teams that have become remote and they're seeing that there's been more of a dip in productivity or interaction with one another. 

So we have specific PLA pathways for what's needed, but it can start from, it's we're onboarding like from the beginning all the way to any stage within the life cycle of your career development.  

Karly Wannos: Okay. And. A couple more questions about how the games actually work, because I'm so intrigued by all this. 

Is it like a video game where [00:26:00] you have, four of your friends playing along with you, or is it like a. Choose your own adventure question and answer. How does it work the actual  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: game? That's a great question. That's a great question. So Keep Will is not like it's a, it's not like a video game, but it is like a, it is a web app that can be utilized on your phone or on your desktop from that perspective. 

And they are played live. So with Kewell, we're focused on creating human relationships because we know that people have relationships with people and not companies. And so our whole goal was to create a game that lets employees understand themselves and the people they work with while giving employers insight. 

on how to retain and maximize the potential of them. So with the start of all this, employees first start by taking a heartbeat survey to establish the baseline of sentiments for team dynamics and work environments. So those five key areas that I had mentioned previously, we first get a survey from them just to see where are you landing [00:27:00] before you ever start playing, because that's the only way we can see. 

what is Kewell doing from an impact standpoint? And so they do that, but then using a video conferencing platform. So for those remote or hybrid teams or even getting together in person, then teams get together to play. And so for how our games are played, it is a question type of answer situation. So players receive questions that they answer openly and transparently. 

They get they're presented with two different questions that they have the option to. , do I wanna go with this one or do I wanna go with that one? They have different point values, so they have control over, there's more points for how deep the question is, or how much you have to go beyond the surface level. 

So they, they get to decide, do I wanna go deep here or don't I, and then it's truth or dare.  

Karly Wannos: Or you get to pick which one you want, . Exactly.  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: And I often I like to explain this truth and narrative, but then people are like, truth or dare in the workplace. And I'm like, no. Let's not think about your teenage truth or. 

Like it's just this is adult truth or dare. [00:28:00] Yes, adult truth or dare, which still could be scary, but , it's like workplace appropriate adult truth or dare .  

Karly Wannos: There you go. Your description is much better.  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Yes. And so players like receive these questions. They're answering openly and transparently often will get a question like how do you get people to answer openly and transparently? 

It goes back to that gaming principle, hacking the brain. Like you have rules that everyone's following these rules, because if you don't follow the rules, then you're cheating. That's also part of, like with gameplay, if you're not following the rules of monopoly, someone's gonna call you out to say You cheated. 

You didn't do this. So it's similar in nature. it's rules that are saying you can't use the words they and them. You need to speak from your own personal experience. Use I and me where it's talking about providing an example. You can't just give a generic in the perfect, ideal, idealized world, because then that goes back to scenario type training, which is [00:29:00] but that never happens. 

And that like you could do all the scenario type training you want and then when the real situation happens, you. Wait.  

Karly Wannos: You're gonna get points deducted for that, and then you're gonna get your participation ribbon instead of the winner ribbon. You can't do that .  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: Exactly. So speaking of which, with that, it's even so with players, so you have the question answer, so you give your initial question like answer, but then players are able to ask. 

Follow up questions to really uncover that uniqueness of each person and illuminate how they think. And based on that, they receive their, they get their initial points that are assigned to the question, but then they're able to also receive bonus points and badges that are focused on being the most curious, being the most vulnerable, being the most persist. 

Sense and like the questions that you asked. So really tapping into those interpersonal skills of communication, listening, showcasing, empathy, so it's working in all these different elements of how do you best communicate and build relationships with other people, but [00:30:00] also learning how to best support those other people. 

Having an epiphany moments for yourself, seeing the relatable instances that you otherwise wouldn't have seen. What would've prompted you to take this direction to get to this conversation? And basically the more open and transparent you are, the more points you get and it encourages that deeper learning and trust building and gets you more points. 

And that's basically how you win. And you win badges towards different different levels to unlock.  

Karly Wannos: Very interesting. Lauren, thank you so much for being here, and thank you so much for explaining everything that Keep Wool has to offer. I'm so excited to learn more about the platform. I'm sure, as you can tell, I'm just very interested and intrigued by all of this. 

And, Garner the days of interacting with your coworkers just through, meeting in the. Office lunchroom or going to a happy hour, although that can be nice. There are other ways to really engage and learn and collect those data points as well. So really interesting and thank you for being here. 

I'm [00:31:00] so glad we got a chance to connect. I will leave your contact information in the show notes as well as a link to the Keep Wall website if anybody is interested. They can get in touch with you there. So thanks a lot. I  

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks: appreciate it. Awesome. Thanks so much, Karly. 

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