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Can There be a “Studio Personality” Indicator?
by Clinton Keith on 08/18/11 04:44:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Can a studio’s culture, or personality, be measured?  Having some simple metrics of a studio’s culture might be a useful starting place to discuss its strengths and weaknesses internally.  This article poses the question of whether a set of metrics is possible and what they might look like by taking a lesson from the popular Myer’s-Briggs Type Indicator.

For the past dozen years, I’ve used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator) questionnaire, which is “designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions” through a simple four part metric.

I’ve found it to be an interesting tool that helps people  communicate with others who all think and feel differently.  The results can be taken too far, but one of the most interesting things about the MTBI is the consistency in its results.  I’ve always been measured as an INTJ by the test, but have been surprised when people who are trained in MTBI tell me I’m an INTJ after a few minutes of conversation.  There are even tools online, like TypeAlyzer (http://www.typealyzer.com/), which tell me that I’m an INTJ when it analyzes my blog (http://blog.agilegamedevelopment.com/)

After spending the past four years working with dozens of studios as an independent trainer and coach, I’ve seen common patterns and I’ve come to feel it’s possible to categorize these patters into an MTBI-like system.  I searched around and found a few candidates, but none of them seemed ideally suited to game development studios.  

What would such an indicator look like?  It should probably start at the same scale of the MTBI and have four dichotomies, or preference-pairs.  The four MTBI dichotomies are:

  1. Extraversion (E) - (I) Introversion
  2. Sensing (S) - (N) Intuition
  3. Thinking (T) - (F) Feeling
  4. Judgment (J) - (P) Perception

The MTBI dichotomies lack any positive or negative bias, which is often different from our daily use of these terms.  For example, when I first heard I had a preference towards introversion, I didn’t believe it.  “I’m not an introvert” I thought, “I talk to people all the time!”, but then I read more about these preferences(from Wikipedia):

  • Extraverts are action oriented, while introverts are thought oriented.
  • Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence.
  • Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction.
  • Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone.

The assessment didn’t sound so wrong after reading that.   Eventually it led me to try and improve communication with others based on the preference they seemed to have relative to my own. 

MTBI preferences aren’t absolutes either.  The MTBI provides a scale between the preference-pairs.  Very often you might find yourself near the center between them, as I was with extroversion and introversion.

How would a studio type indicator be used and what would its value be?  Some ideas:

  • A means to collect feedback from employees and gauge their view of the studio
  • To characterize multiple studios within a larger organization and compare them
  • To measure the evolution of a studio from its founding, onward
  • To identify dysfunctional patterns

The value of the MTBI is that it reminds us we all think and communicate differently.  Similarly, an equivalent studio indicator would raise awareness of the assumptions and vision of an organization and hopefully lead to meaningful conversation and alignment of that vision among everyone in it. 

What would be the best four dichotomies for a studio indicator?  I came up with a list, but I’d like to find out what other preferences developers think belong here.

  1. Process: Formal/Ad-Hoc - Are the practices and rules that govern how you work very clearly spelled out or does every project figure out how to build a game on their own while its being created?
  2. Leadership: Charismatic/Hierarchical -  Does the true leadership and vision of a studio reside with one or two outspoken people or does it emerge from a group of leads who occupy positions in a hierarchical structure?
  3. Identity: Inertial/Exploratory - Does the studio uniquely identify itself from its past successes or is it based on a vision of what it wants to be?
  4. Guidance: Self/External - Is the studio guided by it’s own decisions (e.g. a 3rd party independent) or is it owned by a larger parent company that makes many of the higher level decisions for it.

This is a first-pass list of dichotomies and I have to admit I’m not completely thrilled with them.  What different dichotomies should be in this list?  What would you think is necessary to include to describe your studio?  How should this indicator be used?




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Comments


Lisa Brown
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The DISC Assessment is another useful inventory, and we did some exercises with it with specific intent towards situations in the workplace, versus a general inventory. I think it'd be harder to adapt this to the profile of an entire studio, though. More info here...



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DISC_assessment

Bart Stewart
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I've been a student of this stuff for a while now, and one thing that's become clear is that the single most important Myers-Briggs preference is the one for Sensing or iNtuitive. If you can accurately identify that one preference, that will tell you at least 60-70% of what the character of that person or group will be.



From there, the next important bit -- good for about 20-30% of the overall makeup of that person or group -- follows from the S/N preference. For a Sensor who focuses on concrete externals, the next most important preference is Judging or Perceiving. For an iNutitor who focuses on abstract intrinsics, the next governing preference is between Thinking and Feeling.



So if you can just identify a person or group as SP, SJ, NT, or NF, you've got pretty much all you need to effectively explain and (at a high level) predict behavior based on motivations. (This is actually the origin of the four temperaments described by David Keirsey: SP = "Artisan," SJ = "Guardian," NT = "Rational," and NF = "Idealist.")



Notice that Introversion/Extroversion only contributes maybe 10-15%. It's useful for doing a full MBTI workup into one of sixteen types, but my perception is that identifying one of four broad "temperaments" is sufficiently effective in most situations.



Speaking of four general organizational styles, there've been some interesting studies done here. The Wikipedia page on Organizational Culture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_culture) is a pretty good resource.



For my money, the work that Charles Handy did (based on observations by Harrison) is extremely useful. Handy noted that there seemed to be four broad kinds of corporate cultures: Power ("it's who you know"), Role ("just follow the process for your position"), Task ("you're matrixed to Projects D and R this week"), and Person ("how do we all feel about that?"). For what it's worth, I think these culture types are organizational versions of the four temperaments identified above: SP Artisan => Power culture, SJ Guardian => Role culture, NT Rational => Task culture, and NF Idealist => Person culture. (It can be dangerous to see analogies to one's pet theory everywhere, but I feel pretty good that there's something to this one.)



Finally, following Handy there are a couple of patterns to organizational culture that are pretty useful to know.



One is that the culture of an organization tends to reflect the style of its founder(s). A hard-charging, "what have you done for me today?" company was probably founded by (and is probably still run by) a go-getter Artisan SP; a company with extremely generous benefits and an in-studio day care center that does some kind of social work likely grew up around a charismatic NF Idealist; and so on. So if you want to know what kind of culture some game development studio has, you may need look no further than the preferred style of whoever started that studio... if they're still there.



Which brings me to Handy's second observation, which is that, over time and with increasing size, all organizations will tend to become Role cultures. This doesn't mean that all organizations *are* Role cultures -- the tendency can be fought. It just means that as you add people, and when you've been around long enough to become known for certain things (which creates constituencies), there's a very strong tendency to want to formalize processes -- to lock down what people do into well-defined steps performed by people in authorized roles.



In effect, unless it's recognized and actively countered, all organizations shift slowly from some other corporate goal to a security-seeking, risk-aversion style of doing business, which is the hallmark of the Role culture. Where another kind of organization might try to succeed by innovating in new markets (Task culture) or superior customer service (Person culture) or high-pressure marketing (Power culture), a Role culture organization usually focuses on reducing costs in an existing market.



Based on the highly technical nature of the work, I'm pretty confident that most game development studios are Task cultures. In fact, probably enough studios follow the task-centric model that we could fairly say that game development as a whole is a Task culture, and thus has all the strengths and weaknesses of that style. The main strength of Task cultures is that they're very efficient -- the right people get put into the right roles to accomplish strategically required tasks. This hints at the main weakness of Task cultures: they're not exactly people-friendly. For an organization of any size, "staff" "resources" are generally valued for whatever functionality they can bring to bear on a particular task, rather than for themselves as people.



Sound familiar to anyone? ;)

Clinton Keith
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Hi Bart,



Oh yeah, that sounds familiar!



Great info! I'm glad that someone who has studied this so much has feedback.



I agree that Charles Handy has created the best existing set of organizational values, but I still feel there is a value missing in there for game studios. This additional value would measure the studio's ability to foster intrinsically motivated teams which have a limited, yet valuable degree of creative freedom and ownership. It's hard to describe, but some studios just breed intrinsic motivation, but I do think there is a strong correlation with these studios and the "power cultures" that Handy describes.



I agree with you that the game development community is largely based on the "task culture", but I have a few points:

- This is far more predominant than it was > 10 years ago.

- Efficiency often comes at a cost of effectiveness (ala, Tom Demarco's "Slack"). Specialists focus so much on their predefined tasks that teams often get lost in the forest of details.



Thoughts?



Thanks,

Clint

Bart Stewart
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It's a fair point, Clint. No one person -- and certainly not an organization composed of multiple persons -- is limited to only a single style. I'm a hardcore INTP, almost to the point of being stereotypical (and the Typealyzer said so about my blog! :D), but even I can be security-oriented or idealistic at times.



That said, I do think most of us are most comfortable in a particular style most of the time, enough so that we can fairly be said to have a primary style. And from what I've seen and read, that seems to hold for organizations as well.



Even so, I think you have a point when it comes to game development studios. Small studios are sort of an odd duck; they don't have the same problems we think of a large organization having, so they don't express the same kinds of powers and pathologies as large organizations. In those cases, they're probably best looked at in terms of the styles of the individuals working there.



For larger game developers, though... that's where I think we can see some of the non-Task-oriented features kicking in. In particular, start-ups tend to be created by the hard-charging Power-oriented SPs who love the challenges of intense negotiation. So for smaller studios, there's probably some Power culture maneuvering going on.



But larger developers just can't survive without some kind of internal structure, whether it's a matrix or a hierarchy or even group consensus. So even if the founder is still trying to operate in an ad hoc, wheeling and dealing kind of way, the organization as a whole, once it's of any size, tends to shift away from being a Power culture and more toward something else -- usually a Task or Role culture. (Person cultures are rare, and tend not to fare well in highly competitive business environments.)



Having said that, I *do* think there is probably one strong element of Idealist NF Person culture in game development studios. As you point out, making games isn't just "insert Tab A into Slot B." It's not just technical, and games aren't just mass-producible widgets; there is also artistry in it. Other than a CG film studio like a Pixar, I can't think of any other business that depends so much on fusing art and science in the production process.



It's possible that this means game studios in general don't quite match the typical Task culture organization, but instead are a sort of unique amalgam of consensus and matrix: people work on tasks, but they want those tasks to count for something meaningful.



On the question of efficiency versus effectiveness, I think I tend to see this being more of a Role-culture problem. People in a Role culture tend to be (or are made to become) pretty heads-down, just-do-your-job. This is part of the reason why organizations become bureaucracies -- people just focus on their little part of the system, and the system eventually stops doing what it was originally created to do.



In terms of what might be called "levels of function" (vision -> strategy -> operations -> tactics), Role cultures focus on operations -- processes -- while Task cultures tend to focus on strategy. This strategic outlook, I think, tends to keep game development studios pretty effectively on the same track toward a goal.



I haven't worked at a game developer, so the following should be taken accordingly. But I suspect the more likely problems for these businesses are 1) a lack of sufficient organization (a Role culture strength) to keep daily production tasks aimed at achieving the high-level strategy, and 2) following a good strategy that gets yoked to a bad or ill-defined vision (something an Idealistic, vision-oriented Person culture could correct).



This is actually why I'm such a strong proponent of diversity in the workplace. Not the usual sex/ethnicity kind, but a diversity of psychological styles. Having a good mix of personal styles at all the different levels of an organization means that the inherent weaknesses of each style are minimized, while all the strengths are available to be applied when and where necessary.



Your opening post was great; I hope more people will jump in to share their experiences and thoughts.


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