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.

There are a few management theorists out there that really nail it when it comes to identifying what employees care about. Since retention is a good thing, because turnover is expensive in several ways, leaders need to care what keeps employees happy and productive on the job. So do guild leaders. In the back of my mind, I see Mel Gibson with a smirk on his face and the cover of that movie “What Women Want”. Since I never actually saw it, and can’t give out our gender secrets (at least not easily!), I’ll stick to talking about business and guild leading and you can decide for yourself whether the theory translates over to other types of relationships.

The simplest model I’ve seen approaches the issue from a negative perspective, and illustrates three factors that create “Job Misery”. This is Patrick Lencioni’s model, taken from his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Picture a triangle, representing Job Misery. Each side is made up of the following three factors:

Anonymity.

Nobody knows who I am. Nobody cares. Nobody says hello when I log in, or says goodnight when I leave. Nobody ever catches me doing anything right. Or wrong. They just don’t care about me. I’m just another generic <tank> <healer> <dps>.

Irrelevance.

I need to know that my efforts matter to someone. I don’t feel part of the team. Nobody thanks me for the work I do. Nobody notices my debuffing, healing, decursing, mob pickup, kiting, etc. I need to feel I’m contributing to the guild’s success. Would it matter to them if I never showed up?

Immeasurement.

I wish I knew how I was doing. I don’t want the Raid Leader’s opinion, I want to know for myself whether I’m doing the right stuff.

This word, coined by Lencioni, is about your ability to objectively judge and measure your own performance, and whether you are meeting the necessary standard. It’s about having a tangible indication of success or failure, that isn’t subject to another’s opinion, so that you can feel in control of your own situation. What your guild could do to enable this is to make sure you understand your role in the fight clearly; and provide objective tools such as WWS or other meters, while encouraging you to compare your performance to your previous ones.

So, what do we as leaders do to combat “Job Misery” on our raiding teams? Since we run a completely volunteer organizaton, failing to address the three factors above means our guilds fail. Some of the factors that contribute to combating one or more of Lencioni’s Three Factors include:

Some Things Members Do Want

Camadarie. Cheerful guild chat with low drama.

Being greeted as they log on.

Interesting forum participation with a personal touch. Perhaps a Real Life pics thread, screenshot of the week thread, or humor section.

Officers with some people skills. Friendly. Approachable.

Leaders who catch members doing something right – in public or in private tells.

Leaders who catch members doing something wrong – privately, respectfully, in tells.

An upbeat, low drama, respectful raid environment.

Raid strats discussed on the forums, with each person’s role clearly laid out.

Published WWS or similar performance logs.

Understanding of how to read performance logs effectively.

Hearing “thank you”. For buffs, for Fish Feasts, for showing up on time, for working hard. Sincerely.

The opportunity to have suggestions listened to.

Celebration of successes. Even incremental ones.

Guildmates and officers who remember there’s a person behind the toon.

Being noticed, appreciated and significant to the team.

What else does your guild do to combat “Job Misery”?

A wise wizard told me that there are only four critical things a guild leader has to get right:

Recruiting
Participation
Loot
Dismissal

I try to mentally keep my eye on that model when I ask myself how the guild is doing. It’s another of those models that applies very well to Real Life business management. Your fundamental systems have to be well thought out, in alignment with your values, clearly documented… and most importantly, followed.

Recruitment

I’m a big believer in recruiting for attitude, once you’ve established basic credentials. This means you need to take some extra time to get to know the applicant, and have them get to know you, but I believe it pays off in the long run. Of course, if you’re running an uber-Hardcore guild, there is no “long run” most of the time. Those guilds are often fairly unstable, with high turnover, because they can’t choose to take personality into account much. They have to focus on performance above all, if competitive progression is their reason for existing. I’m glad we don’t have to be that short-term about our recruiting, as some of our most productive and high-performance raiders didn’t start out that way.

What are the SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of your organization’s recruiting system?

Participation

We had challenges early on with making participation fair. We didn’t want our raiders ‘competing’ for raid spots, since fun is a value as important as progression in our guild. We don’t run a bench, every raider raids (although not every guild member is a raider). We needed a way to ensure that everyone got their fair share of face time. That ultimately became our unfortunately-named “RoT” system, or “Ready on Time” system. We track who signs up, who shows up on time, and who gets in raids. Then we use an excel spreadsheet to analyze this data and show us whose turn it is to sit in backup. It’s transparent, public, and applied equitably to everyone from raid leaders down to the newest recruit.

This system has almost completely eliminated any drama over whose turn it is to get in raids. It’s also delivered side benefits in allowing us to easily track attendance patterns, and see what classes/roles we should be recruiting. We no longer have to guess at our recruiting needs. We can see changes in a raider’s attendance patterns, and an officer can follow up on that to find out if it’s temporary or permanent. If a raider’s attendance drops below our acceptable minimum, we can see it at a glance and address it. Most importantly, the system is public and objective, and everyone knows what’s expected of them. That leads to our next topic, loot.

Loot – the Reward System

Our guild runs on a “pay for participation” system, commonly known as DKP, or Dragon Kill Points. If you show up available to raid, whether you are in the raid or in backup, you earn points which can be used to “buy” items in game. It’s similar to a company that pays by the hour, although in this case everyone earns the same amount hourly. From our perspective, it’s public and objective, and that’s what matters most to us.

Some guilds use a Loot Council system, which is more dynamic and in some ways more efficient. That concept revolves around having a group (often officers) decide who needs an item most. What you give up for that efficiency is objectivity. Loot Council systems tend to attract drama at times, even in very mature guilds, but when progression > all other values, it can be the right system.

The main point is that your system, whatever it is, has to be clearly documented. Members need to know what they’re agreeing to as a reward system, before they join. Questions need to be addressed promptly and clearly. Definitely, no smoke and mirrors. Whatever is promised has to be what’s really delivered.

Retention/Dismissal

The final Key to a successful guild is to have a plan or system for dismissal. I consider retention the flip side of dismissal, and tend to spend more time thinking about retention, but both have to be considered by any guild leader. Retention is mostly about fair systems, clear expectations, good communications and good listening. More on that another day.

Dismissal, or any kind of turnover, needs a defined process. The way we handle it is to make sure that all officers know that while they can guild remove a member in an extreme case, the member in question should be told it’s a temporary situation while the officers discuss it. Nobody, even the guild leader, removes a member permanently without discussion. If a member is removed, or leaves on their own, we make sure we find out why, and keep notes in the officer forums so that we can track trends, and also so that we have them for reference if the person wishes to return at a later date. Any organization that has no form of exit interview when people leave, is giving up valuable information that can help them become more successful.

 

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.