Team Building in Real or Virtual Worlds
Whether you are starting a new team in a corporate environment, building a new raid team for a video game, or working on any other team project, there are certain skills that any leader needs to master. Some of these will be specific to the project, sure. Some, though, will be universal. Like anything in life, to be successful you need to understand people and relate to them. In a previous post, I touched on how gaming prepared me for project management. Now it’s time to dig deeper into that: I will talk about how World of Warcraft helped me be a better manager by helping me understand people and the way they work in a team.
I had begun playing World of Warcraft before it released its first expansion. I had picked up the game to have friends and socialize with coworkers. Throughout the first two expansions I was a heavily involved raider, but by the time that Cataclysm hit, my professional career had started taking off, my friends and started moving away from the game (and in some cases, moving away physically), and it was time to step away from something that had brought me years of enjoyment. Besides, who wanted to play in an expansion populated with Gummy Bears? I canceled my account and focused on other activities.
Skip forward in time and I found myself settled into a new city, working a new job, and with a new Significant Other. We decided to paly WoW together and I started that addiction again near the end of Mists of Pandaria. When Worlds of Draenor launched, my partner and I decided to find a raid guild together, and have that be one of the activities we shared. We looked for a group that was semi-casual, would have regular raids and progression during the time we were both available, and was willing to take bother my partner’s druid and my priest as healers. It didn’t take too long before we found a group that was welcoming and willing.
While I had walked into a few raids in Mists, I was largely coming back to the game and trying to be competitive after a couple years of inactivity. The muscle memory was not what it used to be, and my gear was not fantastic as I raced through WoD to get to raid content with single-minded focus. When we started it was typical trial time; we went into a raid instance with the group, made sure we came with our foods and our buffs, had some modicum of an idea of how the fights went, and tried to pay attention to the raid leader. We didn’t spend hours wiping. We didn’t call it a night in utter frustration that we never got anywhere. The team was pretty good, they had been playing long enough as a group that they could anticipate one another, and honestly, I felt more than a little awkward. I felt like an outsider.
Throughout the night I checked meters to see how I compared to the other healers. The two druids were killing it. The Disc priest was showing phenomenal numbers. The holy paladin was kicking my ass. And while I was out healing any non-healer, I was significantly lower than the rest of the healers. Some of it, I knew, was paying too much attention to keeping myself alive. Was I standing in the right place? Do I need to get out of this glowing circle? Oh! I need to go stand in that cluster… It was important to me that I not die, because only noobs stand in the fire.
At the end of the night, the Raid Leader and the Guild Leader (the holy paladin mentioned above) critiqued my performance. Their efforts boiled down to comments such as, “You cast Renew too often,” “You’re not as good as the last Priest we had, but you can look at his logs to see where to get better,” and “Ask the Disc Priest for help.” It was disheartening, but it also offers lessons I now get to share with you, dear reader.
Comparing New Team Members to Older
No matter if it’s Corporate America or Draenor, we need to be cautious when comparing new team members to older ones. We need to remember that the person we’re comparing our new teammate to likely had more experience in our group and we’re looking at them through rose tinted glasses. It’s easy to remember the most recent experience with someone, after they’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of friendship or coworkers, and a bond has formed. It’s easy to look at the product of their work before they left and note its high caliber because they were with us long enough to gain experience. It can be harder to remember what it was like when they, too, first started.
Feel free to set a bar for your new teammate. After all, they went through an interview process to get here and there are certain minimum expectations for their performance. The key there, though, is minimum. Set the bar at your expected entry, communicate to the new team member what their time-bound goals are. Set out the 30-60-90-day plan as it were, and make sure that expectations are clearly communicated in a friendly, welcoming manner.
Measure, but Have Context
One of the complaints the Guild Leader brought to me was that I cast Renew way too often. “It’s just a hot, use a direct heal instead,” he said. “Go look at this other priest’s logs, see what he did.” I did just that. I reviewed the logs of not just that one example Holy Priest, but ten more. I watched YouTube videos from trusted sources. I read forum posts on multiple sites. I was driven to be better before the next week’s raid.
Do you know what I found?
I wasn’t doing anything wrong with my spell priorities, talents, etc.
After a lot of research what I discovered was that I had the right build for my gear set, I understood my spells appropriately, and I while my reactions were a tad slow, I was performing as expected. Holy Priests did use renew a lot; it was the most mana effective heal for topping people off and it had a good benefit from our Mastery stat. So what was the problem?
Context. The problem was that we were heavy on healers for our raid composition, and the rest of the heal team was phenomenal. By the time my Renew would finish, the rest of the heal team would have healed the raid to full and my healing became wasted over heals.
We’re humans, and it’s easy for us to jump to conclusions based on the simplest of things. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are an easy fact to look at whether they are healing/damage meters or a report on whether you’re initiating phases of a project on time. What we need to remember is that numbers alone do not tell us the whole story. In this instance, the numbers alone lead someone to think I was all wrong in my performance, rather than looking at a holistic picture. At work, someone might look at my project KPIs and think I was a slacker with so many missed deadlines, but taking the time to understand the context would reveal that I have most of my projects because I took them over from struggling PMs to pull them out of the red.
Make Sure Your Advice is Helpful
The Raid Lead, trying to be helpful, suggested I speak to two other priests. One with a holy priest, one being the raid team’s disc priest. It turned out that neither of these suggestions were helpful. The Disc Priest had never played Holy, didn’t understand it, and had no desire to. The Holy Priest, the one I was so hopeful for? He hadn’t played Holy in two expansions and any WoW player, or any white-collar worker, can tell you a lot changes in two years. The Raid Leader was trying to be helpful, but he reacted quickly and gave advice that only served to waste time and lead to more frustration.
There’s nothing wrong with offering to help someone get better at something. Being helpful can provide a sense of welcome to teammates, improve performance, and relieve stress. Take a moment to check your advice before you give it. No one will blame you for, “Oh, yeah, I can help with that. Just let me double-check…” instead of just blurting out the right answer. It can save a lot of time in the end. And if you can’t help? It’s ok to admit that too!
Noobs are People Too
We game to have social contact. We work in teams because we’re stronger as a group of humans than a single upstart ape can be. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best at what you do or not, the noob is a person too and should be treated like one. Yes, as a longtime member of the team your performance may be better than theirs. You know the strategies. You know how to anticipate the needs of the team. Instead of flaunting that with arrogance, temper it with compassion and take someone under your wing. You’ll make a friend, you’ll build loyalty, and you’ll improve everyone around you.