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.

 

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.