One of the requirements for the video game school I attended was to create a fully functional game in an eight month period. Our class was divided into two groups, each with about 17 team members consisting of programmers, artists, and producers. I was the lead for one of these teams.
Our team was managed with the idea that no one single person knew it all. We had to work together to succeed. Team members were empowered. Their opinions were solicited and valued. We encouraged team members to speak up if they thought there was a problem. Trust and respect was a core value. Collaboration and listening to others was important to us. Some faculty members faulted us for our “democratic” way of managing the team, but they could not argue with our results. We were productive, were well organized, and had incredible morale and momentum. We always showed progression every week.
The other team, on the other hand, was floundering. There was disorganization and infighting. Morale was poor. The team blamed their project lead for not managing the team well. The team lead, in turn, blamed the team for not working hard and not doing their jobs. One week they would take a step forward and the next take two steps back.
The other team members would complain to us about their lead, “It’s a dictatorship! He’s always telling us what to do. We don’t have any say in the matter! He just reminds us that he’s in charge. We always just end up fighting.”
People who worked with me on previous projects asked me to talk to their lead and give him some advice.
The team lead and I went out for lunch a couple of days later. I told him what his team mates were saying. He didn’t seem surprised. He asked how we were running our team. When I told him, he was curious as to why we managed a team like that..
“Because we are all still learning,” I said. “We need each other’s knowledge in order to succeed. Besides, we are all students. None of us are getting paid. We don’t have that to hold over anyone. We have to find other ways to motivate the team.”
The lead just shook his head and smiled at my naivety. “But it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Its not going to be like it is in here where they all have a say. They have to get used to it.”
A couple of months later during the mid term period check-in, the other team performed poorly compared to ours, and as a result their game was canceled and all the team members were put on our team. Together, all of us accomplished something great in the end.
Perhaps the other lead was right. Perhaps running a team like we did isn’t like that in the real world. But if you could chose between these two types of teams, which one would you want in your real world company?