What Virtual Teams Should Learn From Online Gaming Squads

June 9th, 2021 | 2:45 am

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Effective teamwork is a science — it takes more than a few able and willing people getting together to collaborate. Let’s dive into the science of teamwork — turns out lots of gamers already cracked it.

Our workplaces are changing — and COVID put those changes in the limelight, accelerating changes that futurists have been touting for decades. Workplace teams used to be held together primarily top-down — independent people worked together if and when they had to, so they can meet management’s objectives for the sake of career advancement. Now, teamwork and workplace culture are often top of the list for prospective candidates. So what changed? When did team environment become a make-it-or-break-it factor?

The Evolution of Work

Work culture as we know it originated in the American post-war era when office work was normalized and widespread. Back then, organizations thrived on strict hierarchy that happened strictly at the office from 9–5 every weekday. There was a lot of gatekeeping of information, and bosses existed for the purpose of command and control. Folks were trying to climb a corporate ladder that was already mapped out for them and for the most part, relied on “time served.” Sometime in the 90’s, along with the rise of tech companies founded by barefoot dudes in garages the work structure started to change. Organizational structures became more flat and co-creative. Internet enabled work from anywhere, any time. Information became shared and widely available, reducing silos and changing the way we communicated. Bosses gave way to engaging, empowering and inspiring leaders — in fact, the very idea of leadership became key. Proprietary, location-based tech gave way to cloud technology which meant that innovation and progress happened faster and better. Instead of a corporate ladder, folks made their own career paths, professions and entire fields. Work/life balance conversations shifted to overall wellness. Teamwork, or rather, effective teams were crucial to many “getting things done” models like lean and scrum.

Something else was happening though, at the same time that our workplaces were evolving, gaming was keeping up. Team-oriented environments popped up all over the internet, any time, any place. Leaders emerged, who were able to rally gamers behind them, and later, went on to start their own esports organizations. Gaming drove tech innovation, from AR and VR to servers and computing power innovations. Forget a corporate ladder — esports became a multi billion industry in a decade, a Wild West of opportunities. Esports crossed borders as if they didn’t exist as a truly global phenomenon. Player wellness became a science of player development akin to that of professional athletes, with nutrition, training and sleeping regiments for optimal performance.

What is an Effective Team?

There has been a lot of research on effective teams, because bad teamwork is expensive — work doesn’t get done, culture suffers and people leave. Some of the teamwork in the last decade has focused on defining effective teams. Here’s a list of the key attributes of successful teams as presented in Standford’s Characteristics of Effective Teams.

1. There is a clear unity of purpose.

2. The group is self-conscious about its own operations.

3. The group has set clear and demanding performance goals.

4. The atmosphere tends to be informal, comfortable, and relaxed.

5. There is a lot of discussions in which virtually everyone participates.

6. People are free in expressing their feelings as well as their ideas.

7. There is disagreement and this is viewed as good.

8. Most decisions are made at a point where there is general agreement.

9. Each individual carries his or her own weight.

10. Criticism is frequent, frank and relatively comfortable.

11. The leadership of the group shifts from time to time.

Read their full article for more detailed descriptions.

Teamwork Notes From a Former esports Pro

Intentionally, or otherwise, gaming has built in-game teams around the same practices. When I played CS:GO professionally, our team functioned according to these characteristics of effective teams. We had unity in purpose — passion helped, but we all had a clear objective: win. We knew the mechanics of the game and our performance goals were clear and demanding, especially against a well-matched opponent. Leadership frequently shifted to get the job done — we played off of each others’ strengths and welcomed constructive criticism. Everyone carried their weight and was invested in decisions that we made as a group.

It’s also not a coincidence that squad-based games like Valorant offer classes of characters — they allow players to build an effective team of players who perform different roles that they are comfortable with and invested in. No one person gives call-outs — leadership changes from map to map, and based on opponent play style.

The future of work is aligned with the evolutionary progression of gaming — there is much to be learned from one another. COVID has made it clear that gamers have embraced changes “overnight” that most traditional work structures are still struggling with. Gaming is built on effective teamwork — gamifying work can be as easy as thinking of your in-game “squad” — what are the roles/strengths of each player?

High performance is a science, not guesswork — workplaces that invest in the development of their employees, create supportive and nurturing environments and use data and analytics to drive growth will win.