Teambuilding, Leadership and Management in at least two worlds.

I read something a couple of months ago that has stuck in my mind, although unfortunately I don’t remember the source. It was a theory which states that most human beings want to be safely in the middle of their social hierarchy. They don’t want to be leaders, they prefer to be led. They also don’t want to be at the bottom of their respective social hierarchy, they fight for the “middle of the pack” position. The theory is postulating that there’s more than a bell curve at work here.

What Cavemen Have in Common With Your Team

The idea is that most of us, due to a heritage going back to our cavemen days, feel that it’s safest to to be unexceptional, to conform. The leader may have perks, but also has to charge the mammoth first. The weakest of the pack is the one not fed if there’s not enough food to go around. However, the middle of the pack is safe, low risk. Entire organizations can slip into this mindset at times.

bellcurvey

What (Good) Leaders Don’t Want

This can lead to a number of behaviors that leaders don’t want to see in their teams:

  • Peer pressure to not excel, or take risks.
  • Refusal to step into leadership roles, contribute ideas, or even make personal decisions.
  • “Brain off” performance mode, where they do what they’re told. Only what they’re told.
  • Denigrating other people’s performance to make themselves look good.

This came to mind because of a conversation I had with a guild member the other day, where she expressed her frustration with the lack of initiative among certain members of the raid force. She felt that many of her teammates preferred to be led, or even micro-managed in raids, rather than taking initiative to make some decisions, ask questions, or self-manage. She believes they’re less effective than they could be by taking more initiative. And I agree.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Now, this isn’t a big problem for us, because our guild delegates lots of jobs in raids, and rotates those jobs to various people, so there is an expectation of a certain amount of participation. We don’t have reserved raid jobs like Main Tank, Raid Leader, Loot Handler. These are done by various people, officer or not. It’s still noticeably a challenge to get members to step up and do even small roles, though. And I think the “middle of the pack” theory is largely why. It’s unconscious and habitual, but it’s something you’re going to encounter, particularly if you try to build an organization with a fairly flat hierarchy.

One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints.
-Proverb

Making It Better, A Bit Deviously

So, how do you address the issue? I think we’ve made a good start in rotating jobs around, and giving members small opportunities to exhibit leadership. Praise and appreciation helps, of course. However, these are strategies to flatten the curve. In a relatively flat organization, you may hit the limits of that quite quickly. My other suggestion is that you focus on moving the curve. If I accept that many people want to be in the center of the pack, another strategy is to move the middle – move the bell curve itself.

The way this works in practice is to slowly, almost imperceptibly, increase performance and participation expectations. Over time, as you move the entire curve, the “middle of the pack” is now performing at a higher level.

13 Comments so far »

  1. by Craig, on June 10 2009 @ 11:15 am

     

    I understand what you mean…I’ve tried many times to get some of my more involved DPS to help lead the DPS, but they just keep doing their own little thing. Out of 5 DPS, 3 are very middle-of-the-pack, 1 is amazing but doesn’t want to help others (and I’ve directly asked him to help out at times, not certain where the disconnect is), and 1 is amazing and is helping _me_ learn and direct boss fights. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for encouraging them to improve together.

    My tanks are very good though. I don’t tell them what to do. I tell them where I want to go, and they set about making that happen. A funny situation the other day – we were in the middle of rolling on a caster trinket when a roll came out from both of our tanks. Confused about why a warrior and druid were rolling on a caster trinket, it came out that they were actually rolling to see who was going to main tank the next encounter :).

    I think what led to this is necessity. I feel like I have good people organization skills, and have a good sense of what we should be doing at any point in time, but that the details of “kill that first, sheep that, you tank that” I’m often lost on and the run doesn’t happen if someone doesn’t deal with it. So because I didn’t deal with it, the warrior took it on himself to ensure that it was happening right, and the druid learned from him (she was one of our best healers in BC, but swapped to tanking in LK for a change – a very “middle of the pack” mindset as a healer, but has grown in her leadership confidence as a tank).

    Thanks for writing :)

  2. by Brandon, on June 12 2009 @ 5:51 pm

     

    I’ve (semi) resently formed a new rank in my guild, labeled “Sensei”. It’s a pseudo-class lead role, but a tad less formal. We have a special sensei/officer forum and we keep WWS discussion pretty blunt in there. They are responsible for keeping up to date on their people and helping to coach them along.

    My true method of motivation though is that performane and past attendance are my two main factors when doing invites. By having benched players, and them knowing that if they aren’t “above average” they will be benched, and if it’s persistent, replaced (via recruitment) everyone tends to stay on their toes.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m running a hardcore guild. I’m not. But I do make it very clear (to recruits) of our intentions when we raid.

  3. by admin, on June 13 2009 @ 1:53 pm

     

    Hi, Brandon; Thanks for commenting!

    Sounds like you’re a bit more hardcore than we are. We’ve deliberately avoided the “competition” mentality that results from telling our members that getting into raids depends on above average performance. That doesn’t mean I disagree with your methods, it’s just that for us, teamwork was a higher value that outweighed the benefits we thought we’d see from that type of pressure. We’re not out to be first on our server, but we do take raiding seriously, so persistent weak performance can result in someone being moved to Social status.

    You’ve simply chosen different factors to base invites on (and I think your method is more common, in general). In our guild, you’re either a Raider or you’re not, and if you’re a raider you are never benched if it’s your turn to raid (outside of actual class/role constraints for the raid).

    I applaud you for making your intentions clear to recruits. I think that’s the only fair way to go. We do that both through our posted Policies, and a Vent interview. At that point, they’re clear on our expectations. In fact, I just added a “How to Pass Your Recruit Period” post to our recruiting forum, because we do get some recruits who mistake the lack of pressure for permission to perform underwhelmingly. ;) In part, it reads:

    If you don’t show solid understanding of your class and the content we’re working on, as well as the ability to “stay out of the fire”, we won’t be asking you to stay after your Recruit period. During it, however, we’re happy to give advice and answer questions. We suggest you take advantage of that and look for feedback on your performance. Combat Logs are posted after every raid in the Raid Logs forum. If you don’t know how to read/interpret them, ask an officer. We’ll be happy to help.

  4. by admin, on June 13 2009 @ 2:05 pm

     

    Hi again, Craig;

    I don’t tell them what to do. I tell them where I want to go, and they set about making that happen.

    That’s great! Good for you. We’re also blessed with excellent tanks, and run things pretty much the same way. We have a tank lead at each raid (it rotates), and they assign tanks, mark trash, and generally handle the clearing. The way it works out is that our tank lead handles tactics and our raid leader handles strategy (and some of the cat-herding). We also have a (rotating) heal lead each raid, so the raid leader really doesn’t have to micro-manage often. I think this started informally at first, from seeing what I did when I was raid leader. I simply delegated out as much as possible: Tank lead, Heal lead, DKP loot awarding, Trash looting, Attendance… by now it’s just routine for all our raid leaders to pass out those jobs at the start of every raid. It’s really helpful in taking a lot of the pressure off the leader and letting them focus on the strategies for the night – and it’s more fun for everyone.

    And thank you right back for encouraging me! :)

  5. by Otter, on June 17 2009 @ 11:53 am

     

    Thanks for posting the article, It is good from time to time to see other perspectives from different Guild leaders. We use the carrot instead of the stick approach, I think effective positive motivation is always good in any situation, in-game or out. encouraging people is always better than taking pop shots on someone’s shortcomings or spamming damage / healing meters in raid or guild channels. We don’t permit either. If anyone wants to see how well they’re doing in a tell, all they have to do is ask and someone will send a tell back with the whatever they wanted to see if they don’t have one installed. I do think meters can be an effective tool in tweaking one’s performance or develop some friendly competition but it can also make good people feel insecure about the job they’re doing and that’s not why they play the game. Pick ‘em up, slap ‘em on the back and let’s all get in there for a better shot, what did WE wrong? How can WE fix it? Pointing fingers is for PuGs, not guilds. Again, great article, I enjoyed reading it.

  6. by admin, on June 17 2009 @ 3:53 pm

     

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Otter. I completely agree with you about positive motivation. We always post meters, after the raid. Our raiders understand that they’re there as tools to help them improve personal performance. During the raid, we strive for the same attitude you’re talking about, seeing things as “we”. It’s a team effort, not an epeening competition, since none of us can “Defeat the Dragon” alone.

    Years ago I dated a bouncer who told me that his primary job was effective observation and communication. He believed that under normal circumstances, if he ever had to lay a hand on anyone, he’d failed. I think the job of any leader is similar, we shouldn’t need the “stick”, particularly during raids. If we do, we need to look to why that situation arose in the first place, because there’s a weak spot somewhere in our policies, recruiting, loot system, etc. I know that sometimes under extreme circumstances our members “act out” in game to vent stresses from Real Life, but again… if the guild culture has been communicated and managed effectively, it should be very rare.

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About Author

Atris, known in another world as Karilee, is a World of Warcraft Guild Leader and Business Consultant fascinated by how Leadership, Management and Teambuilding work in two different worlds. She believes that good leaders, good managers and good teams are essential for successfully defeating dragons, no matter what world you find yourself in.