Motivate your employees to succeed by playing games on the job.

I have a big, noisy, fun family. Growing up, we lived around the corner from the McCartheys, a family with a set of kids that matched ours. So, we hung out together. Not all together. The big kids hung together. The middle kids hung together. And the youngest kids, my group, wished we could hang with the big and middle kids.

Once in a blue moon, we would all play together. We played only one game and only under absolutely perfect conditions. The game: Football. The conditions:

• There had to be snow on the ground, at least one foot deep and less than 24 hours old.

• It had to be cold.

• It had to be nighttime.

• We had to have at least a dozen, preferably three dozen, players.

• The big kids had to play. It wouldn't work without big kid representation and leadership. The middle kids and little kids wouldn't dare suggest the game.

As the conditions developed, the little kids would extend hopeful hints. “Man, it is cold out. And the snow must be 10 feet deep!” The big kids would feign disinterest until the promise of fun overshadowed the fear of being uncool. After all, to make the game work, you needed a lot of kids. That meant allowing the little kids to play. You couldn't relax the boundaries too often.

Once the decision was made, we all set into action. We called friends to call friends to come over right now. And, we dressed for battle.

Of course, only the McCarthey kids had instant access to actual snow clothes because we gathered at their house. Not to worry. A key element of the game was finding enough clothes to keep warm and relatively dry. We improvised: Shaun once wore a pair of striped toe socks as gloves; Maureen was fond of her colander/helmet (not much protection from the cold, but wonderfully intimidating).

Veterans knew the trick of many, many layers - for warmth as well as padding. One kid attempted to use Mrs. McCarthey's mink stole as shoulder pads. It was a technically sound concept, however it didn't fly with Mrs. McCarthey.

On the field, the two biggest male kids (sexist!) would assume the roles of quarterback. Then, the de rigueur and humiliating team selection process. After that, we were off and playing and it was so much fun. We would run and tackle and pile on each other in the deep snow. You might get hurt and cry but not for too long because you would have to go in. We would laugh like babies, for the sheer delight of the moment. Time stood still and went too fast, like it does when you are deliriously happy.

At some point, enough of us would get cold, wet and hurt and we would pile into the house. Then, we would peel off thousands of layers of clothes and drink hot chocolate. Instantly, we would replay the game with impeccable recall: “Remember when I sacked you about a hundred miles behind the line of scrimmage? That was great!”

Are you smiling? It's fun to play a game. When was the last time you felt like that? Are you ready to stop taking yourself so darn seriously?

Good Game Guidelines: People play games. As we get bigger, the games sometimes deteriorate - “I'm not going to wear my uniform today and see if anyone even notices.”

Dear reader, I encourage you to have some fun and to elevate the game-playing in your life. You spend so much time at work. Why not play instead?

Recently, I wrote a PM column series about a better way to pay (“The Way To Pay,” September 2005). I outlined a sound approach for creating a winning compensation and bonus program. If the way you pay needs to be fixed, fix it. You'll have the foundation for a fun game right there. Exceed goal and make more money. Deliver to expectation and keep this really great job.

Now, what I am about to suggest is not a replacement for a sound compensation and bonus program. It is an embellishment, an enhancement. My suggestion: Play lots of games. Have a lot more fun.

You can play simple game or more sophisticated contests. If you want, you can even craft games that promote winning behaviors. Games can increase sales or the number of days your company goes without an injury. Have a surprise “Highest Average Invoice Day” and the winner gets a kite. Have a “Meet and Greet Day.” The person who brings back the most business cards gets a $25 phone card. You could even have a “Random Acts of Kindness” week where you all go out of your way to do nice things for each other, and try not to get caught in the act.

Ready to play? Here are a few guidelines for setting up a fun, friendly and winning game:

• Put someone in charge.

• Set a time frame. The person in charge is responsible for keeping the energy up and the game going - right through to the finish line.

• Consider what you want the game to accomplish. More sales? Better manners? New customers? Publicity for your shop? Better safety record? Better understanding of each other's jobs? What behaviors would drive you in that direction?

• Create rules and write them down. Keep it simple.

• Keep score. Get creative with colorful scorecards, props and game pieces.

• Adopt game lingo. Name your teams. Create special names for unusual accomplishments. (In bowling, three gutter balls in a row is a “poodle.” Three strikes in a row is a “turkey.”)

• Create and wear some identifying team uniform (gang colors).

• Hoot and holler when people win or move on to the next level of the game.

• Honor individual performance, team performance - mix it up.

• End the game with a flourish - prizes, crowns, preferred parking.

Get creative and keep it light. A good game can go south if someone gets hurt or cheats or breaks the rules. Help each other play the game straight and keep things in perspective. Aim for fair, and live with the imperfections. Remember the 2006 Rose Bowl? Remember when Vince Young's knee absolutely touched the ground and then he threw the touchdown pass? It is just a game and sometimes a call is wrong. Play anyway.

Play and enjoy what happens. Smile as your team descends into childhood. Laugh at yourself and each other and relish that warm, delicious feeling.

Ding Ding Ding! Special Game Offer: As a special bonus, I am honored to share a really fun, well-crafted game. Art Mercuro is a long-time friend of mine and first-class businessman and manager. He works with the Cassaro family at A. A. Cassaro Plumbing Inc. in Las Vegas. He and his team have developed a game based loosely on Monopoly. Below are the basic rules.

The object of the game: Be the first team to move all the way around the board two times. You start on GO and finish on GO.

The rules of the game: Teams are selected by Team Captains. Each department in the company must be represented on every team (call takers, bean counters, plumbers, etc.).

Team members must live with the goofy team names created by the Game Commissioners: Angelo Cassaro, Joe Cassaro and Art Mercuro (other game management positions include: The Bell Ringer, The Marker Mover, the Truck Inspector and The Cheater Police).

To move forward on the board one space:

• Submit a signed invoice or change order for $500 or more.

• Pass truck inspection the first time. All vehicles on the team must pass. All team members can pitch in with the trucks.

• Turn over a lead that results in a sale of $500 or more. All team members can deliver leads.

• Have a customer redeem a door hanger coupon with your name on it along with his or her paid invoice. All team members can put up door hangers.

When you move one space, you get to ring the bell one time.

To move forward on the board two spaces:

• Submit a signed invoice or change order for $900 or more.

Watch out! You move back one space if:

• You fail an inspection on any aspect of any job.

• You fail a truck inspection.

• You fail to turn in your time sheet by Monday at 8 a.m.

You move back two spaces if:

• You fail a safety inspection by a general contractor, OSHA or the in-house team.

• Receive a driving complaint from a member of the community.

Bell Ringing Basics: You must call in on the radio to have the bell rung. You can move your team piece on the board once the official Bell Ringer has rung the bell - over the radio.

And the prizes:

First Prize (for each winning team member):

• Two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental USA.

• A weekend for two at a resort in lovely Mesquite, Nev.

• A $300 gift certificate to the Meadows Mall.

Second Prize:

• Dinner for two for each team member at the Town Center Lounge.

Last Place team:

• Washes the vehicles of the First and Second Place teams.

• Buys a dozen donuts and serves them to employees while wearing the Krispy Kreme hat.

Join Ellen at our "Innovative Thinking 2006: Hiring-Training-Retention" conference, June 12-13 at the Emerald Pointe Resort, just outside of Atlanta. She'll be part of a panel discussion on women in the plumbing industry, "Old Dogs and New Chicks," June 13, 8 a.m. For more information, visit