What's World of Warcraft got to do with team building?

World_of_Warcraft_Jeff_-_Blog_Feature.pngThe World of Warcraft movie released earlier this month may or may not be a flop, but its release reminded me of an important lesson I learned about building teams.

In a prior life, I worked for a company that invested heavily in learning. It was a core value we exercised regularly with things like company-sponsored golf lessons, Scrabble lessons, and even music lessons. But the strangest investment was a course led by a company called Pluralistic Networks.

What made it strange wasn’t the subject matter, ontological team communication, but the way in which it was taught. Every week, company executives and a diverse group of others (doctors, politicians, even an NFL player) met inside World of Warcraft and took dungeons together. None of us had ever played World of Warcraft before, but we soon became novices while learning a great deal about something completely different in the process.

Our instructor was a former political prisoner in Chilé, Fernando Flores. While a senator, he was imprisoned by Pinochet. After being freed thanks to the efforts of folks like Amnesty International, he took up residence with his family outside Berkeley, California, and started studying. Years later, his grown daughters started Pluralistic to help individuals become better teammates and to help teams become more effective. 

We met inside World of Warcraft because, as he explained it, this massively multiplayer online game (MMOG, for the geeks among us) was a controlled microcosm in which we could tackle problems together as a team. Imagine how complex it would be to tackle e real-world problems from our companies (like “how do we increase our rate of sales growth?” and “should we enter market A or market B?”). We would, undoubtedly, become sidetracked with irrelevant issues, clouding us from learning the most important lesson of all – how to communicate, and through a study of language and interpersonal dynamics, how to build more effective teams.

We met inside World of Warcraft because, as he explained it, this massively multiplayer online game (MMOG, for the geeks among us) was a controlled microcosm in which we could tackle problems together as a team.

In practice, this meant first learning some concepts, and then using them while inside the game. Let me give you an example. We spent some time learning and practicing how to give someone an assessment – the kind of discussion that’s often difficult for people in a business environment, especially people-pleasers. Then, inside the game, we would work together as a team to try to take a dungeon (and often fail), followed by giving each other assessments. “Dan, I think you let us down when you rushed to kill that beast alone. It would have been more effective if you waited for our tank to distract him.”

As we learned more in a “classroom” setting, such as the importance of asking for help early, we would practice those skills in the game. It was a quick, efficient way to get some relatively complex topics across.

The most important lesson I took from this experience is that it’s important to invest in ongoing learning activities for your company, because when you do that, your employees become more engaged, more effective, and more aligned with your goals.

Even unconventional methods like playing a game together could unlock your team’s potential.

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