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Building a Great Team: Communication
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Building a Great Team: Communication

September 17, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[In this article, HR veteran Marc Mencher follows up on his "Nailing the Interview" articles on building the perfect team, and discusses what to watch out for now that you have assembled the group you intend to move forward with, with many common pitfalls -- and their solutions -- outlined. To read the prior two articles, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.]

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.
The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
- Ralph Nichols

Pieces of the Pie

A very successful manager at a major entertainment company explains communication this way: "Count the number of people at the table. Now imagine a pie divided into that many pieces and adjust the amount you talk accordingly." It's a smart, simple way to gauge your participation in conversations and could make the difference between being seen as a facilitator instead of a tyrant.

One of your most important jobs as team leader is to keep everyone talking to each other. Good communication is vital to a team's success. (Even the lone programmer in a room needs to share information at some point.) How your team communicates depends on its size, its physical location and the random factor of individual personalities.

Strong positive information links between a team, the rest of the organization and the client are vital. Some of the most effective communication occurs naturally -- for example, in casual conversation -- but teamwork doesn't happen if one person consistently puts out (and shoots down) ideas or doesn't let others speak.

A good example of team communication is the guild system in World of Warcraft. Online games, and in particular MMORPGs, promote communication.

Using this social dynamic, players need to act communally to achieve their goals and enhance game play. The key to a successful guild is figuring out how to get the most contribution from each individual and encouraging them to be an active and vocal participant.

The only way for a team member to be successful is to learn to relate and adapt to other players within the guild and work effectively as a team. That is not to say that everyone who plays WoW heeds this advice (or needs to if they prefer to play solo).

Some players are successful taking the lone wolf approach, but to experience what high end content the MMO has to offer, a player needs to build and/or participate in building an effective guild (team); that starts with good communication.

You can't stop the internal gossip, or "grapevine" from working, thanks to email; the message often gets cut up and distorted. Be accessible for face-to-face meetings and conversations. Create an intranet and establish "netiquette" rules.

Don't overlook traditional communication like regularly scheduled meetings, status reports and corporate memos but tailor them to meet your team's needs and the environment in which you work. Remember that all communication methods are a supplement rather than a substitute for face-to-face communication.

Ideally, team members should have easy access to each other without encroaching on personal space that the setting provides. If some team members are off-site, establish efficient communication systems (phone, fax, e-mail, video conferencing, etc.). No matter the size of your office area, try to provide an open space for brainstorming with at least one electronic white board.

If your budget doesn't support high-tech equipment, lots of white paper and markers and access to a fax/scanner can work too. The point is having the ability to share ideas (more or less) instantaneously. In a game company, video conferencing is crucial, especially with artists, developers and publishers. This is one of those times where a picture is worth 1,000 words and way more than $1,000!

On Email

Email is the most pervasive mode of communication in the business world. However, as we know all too well, confidentiality is never assured (even when the header says so) and misinterpretation is a very real problem. Email can pave a pretty solid road to factionalism, which is the kiss of death for a team.

If you're going to monitor team emails, be honest about it at the beginning. Make sure everyone knows the rules, whether they are mandated by corporate or by you. The game business is hugely competitive but not everyone honors the NDA. Sadly, some people seem to feel compelled to get around the rules, even on the best teams. If you've got a zero-tolerance policy, don't be afraid to enforce it.

Choosing a Location for Your Team





Space in company HQ near related activities, with managers in offices (not cubes)

Physically close to decision makers; may be separate from main production source and some internal customers

Group responsible for organizing distribution plans for centralizing warehouses overseas


Team is part of operational unit or attached to regional or local office; managers onsite

Physically close to manufac- turing; distance from HQ and decision makers can cause delays and/or miscommunication

Specialist marketing group for onsite production with managers reporting to company HQ


Temporary remote premises or "make-do" space at corporate HQ; management may be onsite

Facilitates very high-level focused dedication and team spirit. If work site is too remote, team may feel too isolated or lose touch with corporate "reality"

"Special project," blue sky or new product development teams


Long term project team or "think tank" apart from main organization; temp or perm office space; management may be onsite

Suits professional operation running at very high standards. Distance from internal customers and/or market may promote arrogance

Information systems design team, long-term corporate strategy

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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