We ran a team challenge this winter, partly to test a new way to drive participation, and partly because, well, that’s just what we do around here.

Previous internal challenges had varying levels of participation and success – some were outstanding from start to finish, while others started slower and fizzled even more near the end. Winter weather, daylight hours, and heavy work-loads all have a negative impact on participation so we set out to find an incentive formula that might up the fun-factor and get the “buzz” going.   Walker Tracker employees tend to be pretty active, so providing motivation to exercise is not as much of an issue here as it may be in other organizations. With us, it’s more about competition and teamwork.

Would $$ make a big difference?

There is an important debate going on in the wellness world around the efficacy of incentives to drive behavior change. We have had the chance to observe many corporate programs and generally believe that paying people to live a certain way doesn’t work very well in the long-term.  That said, we have also seen really good results when incentives are used to create game-like structure to captivate and maintain interest. There’s a subtle, but important, difference between the two approaches.

In this most recent challenge we set out to test different reward scenarios:

  • What’s the impact of adding a ‘buy-in’?
  • How much difference does it make to add a company match to the pot?
  • Does including spouses/partners increase the competitiveness of the challenge?

Here were the specifics:

The Competition: Al Capone’s Chicago (Walker Tracker’s first-person virtual tour of Gangland Chicago in the 20’s)

The Device: Fitlinxx Pebble

Teams:  Employee and spouse/partner/friend

The Pot: $10/ea buy-in with Walker Tracker matching the participant contributions

There were three chances to win and each team can only win once. So, the pot was to be split three ways.

  1. team with the most total steps (not what we usually recommend, but Walker Tracker employees are super competitive with each other)
  2. team with the highest number of days over goal for both members
  3. highest poker hand from the total step number (a fun way to keep everyone in the game)

The generous “pot” created a nice buzz from the start. Clever team names emerged, always a good sign that employees are getting into the spirit. Soon the banter began and we all knew this was going to be a hotly contested challenge.

The challenge began in the middle of Portland’s typically wet and grey winter, when motivation to go outside wanes. Some teams had a strategy of going for several, independent, short walks mid-day. Other teams drew motivation from their dogs when they got home on those dreary Portland winter days. Spouses and partners provided ample encouragement to one another to get out there and walk for the “sake of the team”.

Participants were surveyed at the end of the challenge and here’s what we found:

1) The prize pool positively impacted registrations, but it wasn’t the primary driving factor for most teams to complete the event.  The company match had the positive effect of increasing the prize pool enough to have three separate winning teams. In the end, the monetary prizes were more of a competitive “badge of honor” than a desire for the cash itself. The prizes were more about competitive people keeping score, pure and simple.

2) Adding spouses/partners to the mix was a big motivator. We found that non-employee spouses were really enthusiastic about being part of the company challenge and often ended up ‘nagging’ their teammate to get out there and walk.  Key finding – the teams whose members walked together had the best results.

3) The buy-in really helped to solidify the commitment of the teams. Pulling $10 out of your wallet/purse wakes you up to the fact that you really have signed up for something. On that note, we highly recommend that the buy-in be collected up-front.

Challenge Results:  In the end it was great fun to compete with our friends and loved ones. The winning teams  were ‘Tay+Jac’ with the highest step total. They had some phenomenal walking days, especially on weekends.  ‘Walking Pneumonia’* got the prize for team with the highest number of days over goal for both members. And, even after coming in dead last, team ‘Long Legs’ walked away with the prize for highest poker hand from the total step number (a rather pathetic two-pair, 8’s and 2’s).

*the Walking Pneumonia team started the first two weeks with both members sick and one member literally hospitalized with pneumonia.