Case Study: How a Pharma Company Built a Connected Learning Ecosystem Through Play

KeepWOL’s game-centric talent development platform uses live multiplayer Web-based games, AI technology, and end-to-end learning integration to deeply understand employees, improve soft skills, build inclusive teams, and revitalize corporate culture.

In this era of the Great Resignation/Reshuffle/Reprioritization, learning is both a recruitment and a retention tool. However, there’s never been a clear, easy-to-follow implementation roadmap for curriculum designers to get the best out of their learners.

Unsatisfied or unengaged workers are problematic on several levels. When employees are emotionally disconnected, it can lead to low morale, high employee turnover, soaring recruitment and training costs, sagging productivity, less collaboration and creativity, lower revenue/profitability, rising absentee rates, weakened company culture, and more employee mistakes—to the tune of $550 billion in losses every year.

Industry leaders, such as the multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company mentioned in this article, understand the importance of talent development and teambuilding, and are turning to gamification to drive measurable results within their organizations.

The Opportunity: Increase Engagement and Camaraderie Across a Hybrid Split-Shift Team

Some of the oldest names in business face some of the most complicated workplace challenges, including a pharma company with more than 150 years of history and expertise in healthcare and agriculture. It has assisted in tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues by developing cutting-edge technology, products, and solutions. Like many other global organizations, it experiences challenges maintaining and developing company culture and team cohesiveness.

In 2022, the pharmaceutical giant realized that one of its hybrid team was struggling with engagement and comradery. They needed to creatively rethink how to foundationally build authentic connections, collaboration, and drive learning-specific content in this “new normal” virtual environment, but not in a one-and-done like an escape room or a cooking class.

This hybrid split-shift team had four primary challenges to address:

  1. Conflicts due to personality differences
  2. Difficulty having uncomfortable conversations
  3. Difficulty being open and vulnerable
  4. Decreased motivation and productivity

The team’s key objectives were to:

  • Increase engagement and communication across two shifts
  • Build trust
  • Boost morale and camaraderie
  • Provide peer-to-peer feedback

The Solution: Using Games to Prompt Openness and Facilitate Connections

Gone are the days in which traditional one-size-fits-all learning and technology methods can be used: The disconnected systems, bureaucratic processes, and robotic training curricula that were once stereotypical of Learning and Development (L&D) are no longer conducive or synonymous to providing an impact on the learner or the business. The pharma company felt its options were limited, until it discovered the possibility of using gamification.

In partnership with KeepWOL, the team incorporated a game-centric talent development platform. The platform’s proprietary Play, Reflect, and Grow process uses live multiplayer Web-based games, artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and end-to-end learning integration to deeply understand employees, improve soft skills, build inclusive teams, and revitalize corporate culture.

The Process and Results: Technology + Gaming + Psychology = Empowered Employees

Before starting the process, the team took a benchmark assessment, collecting quantifiable data in five pillar areas: Cultural Intelligence, Engagement, Team Dynamics, Innovation, and Job Satisfaction. The team then began weekly sessions using the Play, Reflect, and Grow process:

Play: Hosted by a certified facilitator, the team played a new game from a library of psychology-based games every week for six weeks. Each game lasted 75 minutes, prompting openness about their personal lives, career, daily job struggles, passions, and interests—much more than what typically would be shared with colleagues.

  • Week One – For All!: This game is designed to promote bonding and create impactful conversations. The questions help lower walls and allow a team to dream big and wonder out loud.
  • Week Two – Forming: This game focuses on the “forming” stage of team development, which involves a period of orientation and getting acquainted. The questions help build solid foundations for understanding and fast growth.
  • Week Three – Storming: The “storming” stage is the most critical and challenging of team development. This game helps team members understand and overcome differences and obstacles, and work through conflicting ideas on team objectives and goals.
  • Week Four – What If?: This game removes the limitations team members subconsciously impose on themselves, encouraging thinking beyond one’s everyday reality and tapping into a place of imagination and creativity. The questions foster innovation in a team environment.
  • Week Five – Going Beyond Inclusion: This game promotes belonging, where every person has a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity. The questions aid in understanding what each team member needs in order to feel like they belong.
  • Week Six – Teambuilding: This game centers on communication through open and guided conversation categories that include life, love, self-reflection, world views, and travel, among others. The questions improve team collaboration, which enhances productivity and decreases personality conflicts.

Reflect: After each game, participants rated the personal, professional, and group impact. The questions map to the five pillar areas noted above. Personal and team development goals were based on game outcomes. They selected the focal area for their next game.

Grow: Participants received personalized educational content to assist in achieving goals. They used their dashboard to upvote and prioritize team goals.

“This approach created a psychologically safe space for my team to easily connect on a deeper level, allowing my team to provide true and honest thoughts, feedback, and understanding,” said a senior HR manager at the pharma company. “It was interesting to hear how people thought and why they approached things a certain way, instead of just asking for that information in an annual review or personality assessment. The gamification aspect helped me uncover and understand the uniqueness of each person, their ‘soft skills,’ and what they needed to succeed.”

To check the program’s impact, another benchmark assessment was performed after two months. Based on the results, the process took effect quickly, providing significant improvement across the board with evident results. The team saw positive movement in all five pillar areas:

Most notably, the benchmark assessment revealed that before initiating the gamification process, only 10 percent of the team had no desire to leave the company. After, 30 percent of employees had no desire to leave the company, an impressive 20 percent increase in retention.

Lessons Learned: Gamification Authentically Connects a Hybrid Workforce and Provides Significant ROI

Talent development has long been considered a core strategic initiative to engage, empower, and connect a company’s workforce, but now there’s evidence showing the old tactics no longer work. Employers must differentiate their talent development offerings to attract, develop, and retain the best employees. The pharma company, like many of today’s forward-thinking industry leaders, chose gamification with strong positive results.

Gamification is rooted in psychology, sociology, reasoning, and logic because it maps, leverages, and exploits the complex and intricate relationships between human behaviors and what drives them. This is why L&D leaders have begun applying gaming principles and mechanics to what they want to achieve—to get the most out of the “player.”

Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks
Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks is the founder and CEO of KeepWOL and an award-winning engineer and tech leader. She spent 14 years working at five Fortune 500 companies, holding various leadership roles in design, system testing, product creation, staffing, software program management, and operations. Fitzpatrick Shanks is the first Black woman to graduate from The University of Kansas’ Aerospace Engineering Department and the first Black woman to win the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) international design competition.