ECGC: Leadership – Leading Disciplines You Don’t Understand

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Leading disciplines you don't understand

Session entitled: Managing Disciplines You Don’t Understand, ECGC, 4/24/14. Professional development on leadership with Dustin Clingman. This session was principally for producers and anyone managing a multi-disciplined task force.

Leaders and leads are primarily the target for this talk. Clingman posed the question: “What shall we rant about?” asking leads and leaders what some of the major complaints about their jobs happen to be.

Major responses included:

  • Team members (or team as a whole) don’t do what they say  they will
  • They don’t follow through
  • They provide work that does not meet specs
  • They fail to communicate (problems, solutions, issues, or at all)
  • Excuses (there’s always an excuse)
  • They do not meet established schedules

Many team members do not understand that leaders and leads are on the spear’s tip to meet deadlines and produce quality work.

What is the role that we play as the lead? We have the ability to explain and understand the scope and intent of the project, goals, parameters, and the timeline. We have to make sure team is happy or healthy (preferably both).

In reverse, what are the staff saying about the leaders?

  • Producers suck.
  • Producers suck. (this is not a typo, these are the top 2 complaints)
  • Producers talk, and they don’t listen
  • Producers don’t defend us
  • We’re always being crunched
  • What do they do?
  • I’ve never worked with a good producer.

Where does that energy come from? Those commenters are not bad apples or poor designers or crybabies. Those responses are from qualified employees. Producers are middle managers- buffers and barriers between workers and the management team. Many producers take so much time managing and not enough time leading. So, I have renamed this discussion and professional development session:

 

LEADING DISCIPLINES YOU DONT UNDERSTAND

“Producer” is a term pulled from the movie-making and video industry. Perhaps because we see video games as elaborate and award-winning as movies. Real producers gather the money to make a film come to the screen, and then take an elaborate amount of the attention. So, we are not paying for the production costs, but maybe taking credit though.

Not all producers have experience with each and every discipline in the game industry. Just ask a developer. It can be said that the level of happiness for Developers is measures by the number of WTFs per minute. The important thing to remember here though, is that we are all different, and we are all the same. Many of us chosen to be leaders have little or no experience- and some of us no interest- in leading. If successful, we charge ahead from game to game, we don’t backfill or teach people how to be great leaders. There is little in the budget or time for leadership training, and most of us achieve training within the the community.

 

TESTING: BOON OR BUST?

Myers-Briggs and True Colors tests are good to point out blind spots in our views, and different needs for staff members based on emotional behavior. BLAME-CULTURES are the worst. Don’t take the test if you work in a blame culture location. People will lump together into hate groups and strike out or shun those who think differently. Bad information in these climates can be used to reinforce grouping behavior, and it will be painful in the end.

Most leaders are FORCED into the role. Some choose it. It is lonely being OF the people but at the spear’s tip, leading the group. As a leader, you need to recognize the personality and humanity of those under you. They will not think the same of you.   😦

The boss needs to know the people. Spend time investing in personal relationships, get to know them (that is their lives) outside of work, etc. Don’t be a buddy over a boss, but fraternize in limited amounts. This will pay big dividends. Once you can recognize their qualities and individuality, they are willing to work harder.

 

Give clear directions, and Grow a Spine

Decide a production methodology that works and then find a way to sell it to your management and team. “But, we’ve always done it this way” are the seven most dangerous words in business.

Grow a spine when either side fights back. If you’ve agreed on a path, take it- don’t let management above roll your team, and don’t let the team force you away from your path. Hold people accountable and support them. Spinelessness is not leadership. Negotiation and compromise ARE leadership. It is evil to be disengenuous to your team and crumble to the boss. Be swift, spare no souls who stand in the way. People are often afraid to tell the truth, especially if it is about failure, disagreement on keen points, or needing more than you initially planned. IF you tell the truth, you can return to the team as a hero

 

Protect the creative environment

Find out how your people like to work best, and enable that to happen. Get buy-in from the rest of the studio or at least your neighbors. Examples of this might include: quiet time from 2-5pm, low/high light, headphones

Keep YOUR personal life together

You can’t lead when you’re not in your right mind. All your hard work on relationships in your workplace can be ruined by a glib comment or two. Know how to keep things separated. If you’re the leader, you never get a pity party. EVER. There is a lot of stress in leadership, but you cannot let that affect your workplace

Get rid of troublemakers
If you have non-performing indvidual, do not balk about getting them on a performance plan. Mental anguish arises and team morale quickly declines when one person isn’t pulling their weight. Developers don’t like conflict, because that’s your job as a manager. Everyone would rather do more work than have to put up with someone dragging them down.

Don’t over-manage/be a control freak too often
If you come from another discipline, use it. Don’t ever argue over colors or words.

Learn how to play poker
For leaders, this is a must. Life itself is a game of incomplete information. How people behave or patterns they exhibit become their behaviors. How they play poker is how they think about life

Play to the strengths of the team
set them up for success at least on this project. FInd the path that works and speed things up. Some team members thrive under controlled crunch. Find out ow your team works best and then create those conditions.

DON’T BULLSHIT ANYONE OVER ANYTHING. EVER.
This will trivialize them. If you don’t know, ask them questions and make them teach you,

 

So leadership tactics formed easily in the first part of this discussion, but lets talk specifically about how to manage and lead disciplines if you are unfamiliar with the archetypes.

Managing the artists
Artists need space and they space out more than you like. Save them from themselves, get involved early and give good boundaries to your art requests. Be very specific about what you want to see, how many variations, how many ideas, etc. Rework drives them BONKERS, especially when this is preventable.

Managing engineers
When engineers explain their ideas and plans passionately, ask them to deconstruct this for the lay person. Don’t be afraid to ask them what the options are. Look to them as technical mentors and ask how you can learn more about a particular subject. Beware the coding zinger joke.

Managing designers
Designers want rules, but they are often tempted to break them. Give them Bite size work, and embrace the protypes! Support them, organizational chart pending. Understand that they exist to give order to the game. They are frequently Tauran, liking stability, sameness, comfort.

Managing sound designers
Audio guys want respect. Bring them into the process early so they can be part of the ideas and concept from the very beginning. People usually want to build the game THEN add the sound, like a movie. The more immersed the sound designers are, the better the product will be. Be very, very clear with your feedback.

 

Closing Thoughts

How can you get people to separate their ego from the end product? Well, you can’t. Leadership starts at the top. I never introduced a person as someone who works FOR me, but rather I introduced them as someone who works WITH me. If ego is trumped at the top, it will trickle down. Leadership should be humble, willing to do everything they ask others to do. Preferably the interview process will allow you to throw someone under the bus and tout themselves so you can get an idea of what they’ll be like in your organization, but good luck getting that to happen…

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