Almost Everything I learned about Teamwork and Leadership, I Learned in Clan Lord

I’ve been threatening to write this post for about a year. I had this sitting on the back-burner for a month and asked for comments from another player also in the IT Admin field. So, without further ado…

Despite the Graphics, CL has real team-building potential

Despite the Graphics, CL has real team-building potential

For the unwashed, Clan Lord is an archaic, sorely out-of-date Multi-player Online Role-playing Game  (MORPG) that has been running since the late 90s. The single world (server) and small population make it feel like a small town, thus all of the current players have the same goal (job). Thus, like any small group with common goals, it is a bit like a company: You have your people in it who are on the ball because they work well in teams and independently, those that only work in teams because they need direction, those that lead group of people in a direction, those that specialize in a subset of knowledge about the terrain (market or technology) all of whom trade their time and risk profit (experience) to advance, and finally those that just show up to have fun. These flyby ‘fun’ people are equivalent to the people who just show up for a paycheck. In the game, one seemingly minor mistake can lead to the death of the entire group.  This necessitates departing (experience and time loss) which is a bit like working on a project  and having it fail miserable because Joe Paycheck didn’t know or care that you shouldn’t have done X.

Considering the parallels I noticed about the in game group and the group of people you work with  day-to-day, I have found several commonalities that I have taken from work to game and from game to work that have helped me navigate real life teamwork, leadership and relationships.

This is because CL is unlike any other Online RPG: Yelling “F**** off ******” on the world channel is not tolerated. Racism, sexism and bigotry have no place in this small population. Snerts tend to get slapped down hard by the players and any GMs that happen to be lurking. Also, the game is co-operative: Griefers may try to grief someone from time to time, but this means they get no help from others and leave. Also, in order to reach the level where you can be effective, it takes paying your dues. By then, even those that might have at once tended to be snerts, have calmed down if they are still around. With all of this as a backdrop, in order to have fun (succeed) you have learn to get along with as many people as possible, or simply refuse to hunt (work) with certain people, which limits your hunting (advancement) opportunities.

As both a leader and a follower, I have learned to listen to the leaders and learn from them when I am following). This means not just listening to leaders’ and followers’ words, but also deconstructing their actions to see if a bad call or move could have been avoided, and also recognizing good calls when you see them. Both of these deconstructions allow you to garner the wisdom oft neglected in many people’s decision making processes.

As a leader, your job is even tougher: you have to know each person’s strengths and each person’s weaknesses so you can delegate and position people accordingly. The nice thing about this game is that unlike actual work, you have the opportunity to see how people actually fight first hand, and this is normal and accepted. If a boss tried to watch everything workers do in real life, the workers would think the boss didn’t trust them to do their work, and this would negatively impact morale.

Experience vs. Enthusiasm

So, with this immediate in game work feedback luxury, I began to draw parallels between people’s disposition when they aren’t hunting (working) that correlate with how they actually perform in the field. What was even more interesting was I noticed as time went on that these same in game traits and outcomes of performance were mappable to real life colleagues. The difficulty was determining which piece of a personality matrix affect other pieces. A minor personality quirk in isolation can mean one of two things (either good or bad), so it is important to mix-in other things you know about a person to surmise their true potential performance.

I have noticed that often two of the biggest indicators of potential is interest and tenacity and not current knowledge and experience as many people think the latter predict performance. A person interested in the things they work on will have a self-sustaining drive to obtain the knowledge they need to understand what they are doing, and the natural tenacity will allow them the spirit needed to overcome any obstacles that hider their progress. If you contrast this with someone with simply knowledge but little curiosity, then you get a person who will not get any better at their job because they lack the interest that can drive them forward. If you have someone with experience, but little tenacity, they also tend to stop advancing if an obstacle presents itself. Experience is great, but most of what people in the “solutions” fields do is solve novel problems. If a problem has been encountered before, the solution is known by an experienced person. However, if a person uses only their knowledge and experience, they might falsely judge a problem unsolvable, and “live with it.” While the tenacious person will work to overcome the problem, even if people say it is unsolvable. If it truly is unsolvable, then they will find that out. If it is not, they just invent a solution.

Skill Assessment Follies

Unfortunately, in interviews, seldom do potential employers test these two facets appropriately. They will give me a logical problem that I have little interest in optimizing or will give tests that only gauge basic knowledge (this is akin to testing if a person can add, subtract, multiply and divide when the job calls for an understanding of trigonometry).  Interviewers tend to ignore my interest in something completely. Rarely am I asked what I am interested in, more often I get asked “what technologies do you like to use.”

Communication

But getting back to the game and how I have learned…

A lot of success is directly related to how tightly coordinated the team is.

With a new team (people that haven’t worked together) there needs to be a lot of communication to coordinate activity. Why? Because: Any communication that can be misunderstood, will be, and that can lead to catastrophic results. So, clarity is paramount until the team can “gel” and understand intuitively how each person moves in combat (how they work). Even with a tightly gelled team, communication is still necessary when new challenges are encountered that the team needs to rally to handle.

If anyone on the team sees a potential problem they need to let the rest of the team know, especially if they know that the others cannot see it. In game, this means yelling “3” for 3 creatures incoming that others cannot see, or even better “Mammoth” to let everyone know to prepare for a tough fight and exactly what they have to do. In the work place this is akin to letting the team know that the server software will be updated next week, and that any trouble tickets should be directed at the admin, rather than a support desk not knowing about the change, and misguiding callers with problems by giving them things to try or excuses such as “everything is working on my end.”

Leading is More than One Job

As the leader, you have to give feedback like this as well as direct people, not only by telling them were to stand (if needed), but why, so they understand why positioning is important. This relates to fostering healthy collaboration through honest communication. (More below)

A leader needs to spot errors, and deduce why or how they were made, even if it was his or her own. This is not to assign blame, but in order to avoid the same error in the future thus derailing a team. Leaders should also praise work that is well done and impresses you. This boosts morale, and by offering both the carrot and the stick, it lets people know you are fair. If you only praise people, you will be perceived as disingenuous and followers will lose respect for you and your leadership. If you only judge people harshly, they will think you are a selfish jerk that lacks people skills and lose respect for you because you come off as someone who thinks no one else can do anything right. So, it is important to be honest, and not be so self-centered and judgmental. A leader needs to think of the team above him or herself, and either they all share the victory or all accept the responsibility of defeat. In fact the entire team needs to be selfless when it comes to the team.

If a leader or team member sees an error, that person has to discern whether it was an honest mistake and forgive it or a careless or rude act that you need to address. If a person doesn’t realize their mistake, you simply point it out to them. If a person doesn’t care about their mistake, a leader can try to make them care be explaining how it affected their coworkers and the team. If they still don’t care, then short of firing them, you just have to put them in a position of less responsibility. Of course, in game, it is not a job, so your choice is often to simply compensate for them, and the rest of the team has to adjust for the member that is a liability. In game, people judged as liabilities because of a lack of skill (not ranks {experience}), tend not to get invited on as many hunts.

As a leader, one needs to also encourage people to keep trying when they are discouraged. I have noticed hunts (projects) often fail when people are discouraged or detached from its outcome. As a leader, if you hear predictions of doom, see if there is any merit to them. If it is just pessimism, you have to bolster morale by disputing the cynical words, or make light of them. You can also try some perspective: “if you try and fail, at least you went down swinging and you can learn from it. If you succeed, then you know you were wrong, and you have something to remember and draw confidence from next time an insurmountable challenge rears its ugly head. In game, and in my career, I have seen people rally behind me or another leader to win a no-win situation purely based on the power and confidence the team had in the leader’s ability to lead them through a difficult situation.

True leaders and winners know: If you never try you will never succeed. If you think you are beaten before you even try, then you are halfway to failure already. So, focus on the task at hand: put those thoughts and self-doubt out of our head, because they distract you and hurt your chances. If people are detached, then do they have a point? Is the project goal actually unimportant? If so, shouldn’t your team be working on something that is more fruitful?

As a leader you have to listen to your team as much as they listen to you. If the team feels like you make decisions based on a detachment from their reality, they will lose respect for you because you are out of touch and they will think either you are dense or don’t care. So, when someone on your team talks, listen. If you agree, agree. If not, don’t gloss over their argument; tell them why they are wrong. If you are unfortunate enough to have the type of person that will argue for hours, then tell them: if you believe your way is so right, then you can prove me wrong by building your alternative on your own time and showing me how much better it is. This will result in one of two things: either the person will stop arguing and leave you alone, or they will work hard to prove you wrong, in which case the team wins. This seems paradoxical, but by losing (being wrong) you can win (project becomes better).

Disagreements

If there is a disagreement, let each side write out their argument, then put it to a vote with the understanding the winning vote is what everyone does. In the game, we can quickly vote on a direction by saying “Everyone in favor of going West: stand to the West of me. Everyone in favor of going East: stand East of me. Everyone who doesn’t care either way, stand inline with me.”

As a leader you should welcome suggestions. There is no worse feeling than feeling unappreciated. By lending your ear, you let people know their thoughts are valued. As a leader, if you hear a good suggestion, by all means, do it — just don’t be a jerk and take credit for it. If you do that, you will discourage people giving you good ideas in the future. Short term gain is often worse than long term gain.

In the event of indecision among your team, you have to be able to decide quickly what to do. A leader is the tie breaker and the executor. If you cannot decide, ask your team. If they can’t decide, flip a coin — do something — and make a decision. Do not stand around so long that people lose interest and leave or you waste so much time deciding you accomplish little of value to everyone.

The editor commented on this voting idea:

“I disagree about putting it to a vote. If you’re in a leadership role, then you should be willing to decide which is the best course of action. You many know (and I have found this over and over again) other things that are not (yet) public knowledge (and may never be – but that is another issue). Sometimes the best test of a leader is making decisions that appear bad in the short term but are necessary because of long term viability or other strategic plans.”

Answer: Assuming the goal and knowledge is open & not a secret business decision. In CL only the mystics get away with that. Most other people will answer the question, “Why are we going here?” or “What’s the goal?” My career experience is only working in internal teams where there are no external factors/external competing parties to consider. In CL, secrecy has been needed when there are competing groups (the foothills discovery & race to find the Orga Stronghold, as well as the traitorous Malkor that stole the catapult part, and tried to ransom it, only to have everyone tell him to shove it. The quest was permanently derailed — much like a team with a person aimed at sabotaging the project.

I agree, that a vote might not be practical in all situations. Leaders should be decisive and flexible by being able to weigh different factors fairly and in a reasonable amount of time. This means the leader must be very familiar with both the terrain, his team, and his enemies. (A nod to The Art of War for these concepts of what must be known.

Leadership Overview & Communication

Each leader has to decide what is appropriate for their team’s situation, because in the business world, the team members often do not have all the facts. One person might be only concerned with his job, such a developing the middleware components that decouple the data store from the front end, while a data architect needs to concern him/herself with the most appropriate data storage technique. The leader must understand how each member functions and guide them to make considerations so that other people’s jobs are easier. Often each internal and external person does not need to grasp the whole project as a team leader does. The team leader must act as a conduit between the outside world and as a negotiator/mediator between connection points. Again clear communication among people is paramount to avoiding costly mistakes.

This brings up another consideration: the people giving the team leader parameters, such as “this needs to be done this quarter” often do not know the time requirements to do something: if they are unrealistic, the team and the leader’s job is to bring expectations back down to reality. If you or your team has 2 months to do 6 months worth of work, you do no one any favors by failing to inform superiors that it is simply not possible.

I have heard many stories of people agreeing to things they know are impossible to accomplish in an allotted time only to deliver late and look bad to their superiors and harm the reputation of their department. This hurts morale as confidence in them (and their team) is also diminished. Not meeting obligations or expectations within the team and to outside observers harms the leader’s and the team’s reputation, and reputation is often the glue holding a team together. With a low enough confidence rating, the team often dissolves through abandonment or upper management cleaning house.

Further Reading

Want to try Clan Lord? Read this first, or be horribly equipped for a life in Puddleby.

Then learn about Clan Lord’s mechanics and what to do/expect: Check out the Wiki I started: The CLUMP or be horribly lost.

Then go to Delta Tao’s CL site, and DL the game. $15 for an account and 9$/extra character slot and unlimited play isn’t bad for a OLRPG these days.

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