Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Just what makes you tick?

As an ex guild leader, recruitment officer, raid leader, website admin, raider, and now just plain old run of the mill casual I've seen what goes on in a guild at pretty much every level, both publically and behind the scenes. Over the past three years or so I've been studying an MBA which looks at all aspects of business. This has been sponsored by my employer and has an obvious tie in with my day to day work but I've often considered that a typical guild structure mimics that of a corporation, not only that but the types of character, and more specifically leader match the people you meet in industry and the types of characteristics you find in people which makes companies or teams more likely to succeed, or fail, are almost identical to those you find in WOW.

I'm going to talk a little here about leadership characteristics (I don't necessarily mean an appointed leader, anyone can 'lead' something in a given situation) which make for success in any organisation (including guilds). It's important first to understand what the objectives are of an organisation; you may assume all commercial organisations exist solely for profit, and that may be true, to an extent, for some. But profit for who? The owners? The shareholders? What about the workers? They make a 'profit' of sorts in their pay packet every month. Even customers make a 'profit', when looked at in these terms, they are gaining some sort of benefit from being a customer there is value in this benefit to them (the reason they derive value doesn't matter, it just matters that they do). Charitable organisations aren't really interested in profit in normal terms; they are mainly focussed on helping their target area. Even culturally company's outlooks differ, Japanese corporations, for example often regard future growth as highly, if not higher, as current profit, whereas western organisations tend to focus heavily on the short term here and now, often to the detriment of longer term stability (incidentally one of the contributing factors of the current global recession). So actually when you look under the hood of what makes an organisation tick, it differs wildly. Being very generalistic about the objectives, you could say that any objective of an organisation is to give value to its respective stakeholders. Stakeholders are anyone who has a vested interest in that organisation, no matter what it is; value is whatever benefit they derive from being a stakeholder. For a shareholder in a big company it might be the yearly dividend they receive, it may however be the opportunity they get to turn up each year at the AGM and shout at the CEO, my point is it's down do the individual; as a WOW player, in a raiding guild, it might be the shiny purples, it might be the experience of raiding, it might be the social scene, it might be the fear of not playing (addiction) or a whole range of other reasons unique to the individual. As a leader, it is important to understand what makes the stakeholders tick (and it may change from minute to minute or year to year).

Once you understand what makes people tick (or at the very least what makes others tick is not necessarily the same as you), a leader can set about trying to lead. I'm going to draw heavily from a text book which I read cover to cover for my first ever MBA module, "Reframing organizations: artistry, choice, and leadership" by Bolman and Deal, it's a great read (if you make it through the first two chapters which are truly awful), if you're actually interested I'll link this and any other reference material at the end.

So, you know what makes people in your guild tick, you understand people have different outlooks on life, and you know these differing views will inevitably cause friction at some point, how do you go about setting up your organisation (guild, raid or even 5-man party) to succeed? Firstly ask yourself what does success look like, if it's a heroic party, it might be clearing the instance; it may however be simply completing the daily heroic requirement, skipping everything that isn't necessary, it may simply be the first boss because the party's been set up to get a particular piece of loot. It may be a combination of all three (and any number of other) reasons for each of the members, already you have a possible 15 permutations (from 3 'success' criteria and 5 members) for a simple 5-man, it's a wonder any part s ever successful! For a guild it's much, much, more complicated! Hopefully you're starting to see there is no one correct answer which suits everyone, and even if it did, it would change so frequently you'd tear your hair out. All you can hope to do is abstract a set of principles or goals which mean success and apply a general framework to achieving that. By abstraction I mean Bob wants epics, lots of epixxxes; Fred wants to be the highest DPS in the guild; Clare whose sole aim in life is to wear the Mantle of Nefarius can all be abstracted to complete Blackwing Decent 25-man by x date. The framework is the tricky part, how do you as a leader best lead? This is where I'm going to reference Messer's Bolman and Deal, they refer to "four frames" of which a leader can use to lead; structural, human resource, political and symbolic. Each of the four frames is better suited to some leaders personalities than other, each has its place and depending on the situation will become more important than others.

I'll describe the four frames briefly, but if you're interested go read the book referenced at the end (it's available to view, in part, on Google Scholar)

  • Structural: the most obvious, it's about the organisational boundaries, chain of command and process, there being a set list or blueprint for getting things done. A good example of where this works is an army, in the heat of battle soldiers, no matter the rank, fall back on their highly structured, highly disciplined training.
  • Human Resource: sounds a bit corporate dunnit? Not really, the HR frame focuses on how characteristics of organisations and people shape what they do. It's the 'most important asset are our people' mentality, whereas a structural organisation will have people doing things because "that's how it's done" a HR focused organisation will more likely have people doing things "for the love of the organisation" (i.e. their derived value is more than just the pay check at the end of the month).
  • Political: it's not a dirty word, don't assume it's the negative aspects of spin and self-interest you see in the media. Viewing an organisation from the political frame simply means you're making decisions to achieve set goals whilst taking account of scarce resources and diverged interests. It's a balancing act of trying to satisfy the most people possible in pursuit of achieving your goals.
  • Symbolic: this is often one of the most powerful (and possibly destructive) a symbolic leader can be extremely powerful in terms of motivating people, think Ghandi or Martin Luther King, people we willing to die for their cause. Symbolic gestures too are extremely powerful, I remember a story of a Chief Executive and Chairman (possibly Ikea, I can't remember the exact details) who would share a hotel room whenever they were away on business "to save money" now in the context of a multi-billion pound company, a £100 a night saving isn't great, but the symbolism of the gesture is immense. Similarly adverse symbolic gestures can be hugely detrimental, think about the bad press city bankers have been getting lately for taking huge bonuses when the tax payers across the world have paid Billions to bail them out.
No do something for me, try and think of one example of each of these frames have been applied in your guild, by design, or by accident – is it the structure of officers and raid leaders, the selfless help offered in gearing a member up to raid who's taken some time off or the GM benching himself for a raid because there are more people wanting to raid than there is space? Actually, I've only given positive examples, try and think of one positive, and one negative, and then try and decide whether the person(s) involved acted without knowing the consequences, or whether (in your opinion) they'd weighed up the pro's and con's and taken the course of action with full awareness of the consequences (probably best to keep your findings private, you might upset people if you post your examples on the guild forum – political frame and all that… :-)

If you're an experienced GM, raid leader, manager, or have had any other reason to 'lead' a group of people you've almost certainly recognised yourself in what I've said, perhaps more by accident than design you'll have done things which could be construed as fitting into one of the four frames. Whether you're a GM, raid leader, or just a standard player, take some time to think about what you and your 'colleagues' want from the game in any given circumstance, and try to work out the best way to achieve 'success' whatever success may be.

WOW is a strange animal, it thrusts people into situations, which in the real world they'd never dream of, yet they survive, and not only that, excel! How many people have managed a team of 40+ people? Not many, I've had a reasonably long career in industry, managing a variety of teams, and approached that number in a couple of occasions, but think back to Vanilla WOW I was regularly organising and running 40 man raids, as were thousands of others across WOW. Leadership, more importantly good leadership isn't about being the boss, or necessarily the one who gets all the credit, it's about getting more out of others than they thought they were capable of in pursuit of achieving the organisational goals.

Even as an individual raider in a group of 25 you can have a positive impact on the group as a whole, think about the symbolic gesture of passing on a bit of loot, even though you're top of the DKP tree, for a newer raider who's gear is far worse – the total improvement to the organisation is far larger, but the symbolism of you looking after the interest of the whole guild or raid won't be lost, others will take the example and act in a similar way.



Now the reference – the link to Google Scholar http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tsFj7wgczvYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=reframing+organisations&hl=en&ei=C9NbTdePMJKShAfJ7OXuDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA

Or the proper Harvard style reference for you more studious types:

Bolman L.G. and T.E. Deal (2003). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass

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