In our society, competition is everywhere you turn, from our political system and economy to sporting events and the television shows that pit singers, dancers, chefs, and even those trying to lose weight against one another.

For facility managers, the natural human impulse to compete is like free cooling. It’s a widely available resource, something that facility managers can make use of, with a little bit of effort. That’s because competition can be a powerful motivational tool.

The idea is simple: Take something you want people to do and turn it into a game. Competition among teams — for doughnuts, points or whatever — drives behavior.

The idea of pitting teams against one another to achieve some goal is one aspect of a concept known as  gamification. It’s been used to get employees to do everything from saving energy to participating in health and safety training. 

From what I’ve read — and there’s a lot you can read if you do a search for “gamification” — a key to long-term success is engagement. If employees are engaged, you won’t need big prizes to get them to compete. Whether your audience is employees, tenants or students, the goal is to connect with them. And a game doesn’t work very well if it isn’t fun.

Competition isn’t the whole story about these games. Cooperation — teamwork — is also at play. After all, no one wants to let down other members of the team.

Gamification may have a value for facility managers entirely apart from results any competition might bring. Facility managers are often the enforcer, whether of schedules or set points. Trying to figure out what would make a game fun is an entirely different way of thinking about the people in your buildings. Even if you never develop a game, the exercise of putting yourself in your occupants’ place could give you insights that pay off for a long time to come.