Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Guild Culture & You

Last week, Alas celebrated her second anniversary of blogging! As the kind tradition goes, she offered to think of a blog topic for interested parties. Of course, I couldn’t help but take her up on this offer. More topics to write about? Yes please, always welcome! Here’s the topic she gave me:

As a GM, how directly responsible do you feel for your guild culture? If a new person were to join, would they be right to credit you for the overall shape of the culture since you are in a position to dictate policy? Or do you think your members shape culture more?

It’s an interesting question, because it doesn’t really have a definitive answer, unless you want to go with: “Somewhat, yes and no, and maybe.” First off, the ‘culture’ of a guild (as I read it) encompasses many factors. Most obviously, it’s the interactions between members (that take place on both the forums, in guild chat, and via voice chat, and these can differ). As well, the culture is the implicit expectations of all the members. What can they expect from their fellow members, from the leadership, and from the activities we do?

The culture of a guild is a nebulous and fascinating thing. I’ve seen the culture of our guild change quite a bit over the past two years – in fact, it’s fair to say that it’s constantly changing. Shifts in culture can happen in two directions – from both the top down, or the bottom-up. The most direct way to influence the culture of your guild is pretty simple: Recruit the kind of people who espouse the culture you want. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, and people aren’t that simple. But no matter what guild you’re in, all it takes is one drastically different person: drop them into the center and watch the sparks fly!

This could be someone whose attitude is more “hardcore” than the members of the prevailing guild.

It could be the opposite – someone who doesn’t quite catch on with regards to what’s expected of them.

It could easily be someone who just doesn’t quite “get” it socially – they tell jokes no one laughs at or they never say anything at all; they just don’t “fit.”

Who fits? In answering that question, mostly, I go with my gut. I’ve ignored it on a few occasions, always to my detriment. (For more about this, I recommend reading “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell). If I have a good feeling about someone, I am usually pretty confident that they will fit in. This feeling begins from the moment I start to read an application. Maybe it makes me chuckle, and contains complete sentences with punctuation – whatever it is, I seldom write more in our applicant discussion thread than, “I’d like to talk to this person a bit more at an interview,” or “I don’t really like [xyz].” A few times I’ve been persuaded to talk to someone whose app didn’t immediately grab me – and even given a trial to someone I was on the fence about, but that’s always turned out to be a mistake for various reasons.

Similarly, I trust the gut feelings of everyone in the guild when it comes to reviewing applicants. If someone says, “I’m just not sure about them,” I’m less likely to want to talk to them. So in a very real sense, the culture of the guild itself is fairly self-regulating when it comes to new people. We’re pretty egalitarian. Everyone weighs in on applications, and everyone tries to be there for interviews on Mumble, too. This makes for especially grueling fifteen-person interviews that are pretty nerve-wracking. I know because I’ve been on the other end of one. If you’re a shyer person it can be scary to know there are so many people listening to what you say – but it’s absolutely essential for us that everyone gets to hear an applicant and give an opinion. At the end, we go through the list of people on Mumble after the applicant has left and vote. Everyone has a chance to say yes or no (and why). Most folks who get in have received a unanimous “yes.”

The only exception to this process are social members – friends and family, and curiously they can prove to be the most potentially unbalancing, because 1) they didn’t apply and weren’t interviewed as we do with other people, and also 2) they already have social ties within the guild so if they don’t fit in or are disruptive, it’s delicate to handle because you risk offending both the newcomer and their friend. I’m pretty welcoming of social members, really, despite what I wrote about them before – I love having people to chat with in guild, and I think especially in a smaller guild they can add some action on nights when folks are busy with other things. More people to hang out with are welcome, but again you have to be careful with expectations. What happens if a social member offends or gets into a fight with a raiding member? Fortunately, I’ve never really had to deal with this and people tend to play nice. I’d like to think that we could resolve any conflict like adults, which is pretty much what the guild is founded upon.

So, I think that the largest determining factor of guild culture is the people in the guild (duh) and in my guild, everyone has a say in deciding who the people are. That’s pretty big. In terms of me personally affecting culture, I think a GL affects culture the most through their own actions. That can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. We don’t really have a lot of policy per se, although I’ve added to it in the year and a half that I’ve been GL. I like to have things set out so that you have something to fall back on in case of disputes, but it’s important for me to remember that I’m not managing juniors.

You have Voss to thank for this bit of manager-ese; he likes to explain that when you manage someone who is pretty green or new, they will probably need a lot of hand-holding. You can’t necessarily entrust them with things you would trust to a more senior person, nor expect the same things from them. But our guild is built around the expectation that members are already pretty senior. They have prior raid experience (in many cases, raid-leading, other hard mode guilds, etc). The thing is, if you manage a senior like a junior, all you’ll end up doing is pissing them off. Have you ever had a manager at any job who treated you like you were incompetent, breathed down your neck, or tried to micro-manage everything you were doing (despite your being competent and capable?) They were treating you like a junior. We try not to do that. So there’s a fair amount of trust there that precludes a lot of policy or a lot of dictating. Expectations are clear – how we raid, how we prepare to raid, and so on. What happens within that framework is up to all of us, and it’s understood that we’ll do it without raising our voices to each other, and we’ll handle any conflict with the least amount of fuss.

The end result is (I hope!) a guild that knows I care about what they think and feel, and that I’ll take their opinions and desires into account when making any decisions. It’s not completely a democracy, but there are definitely strong democratic leanings. It’s a guild that gives respect and receives it in turn, one that knows what’s expected of them (and knows they can let me know if I’ve fallen short in their expectations). Mutual respect, dragon killing, serious business time, many jokes and general badassery make up BT’s culture. I think it’s owed in large part to the excellent people that comprise it, and perhaps I clarify it where necessary. If it’s an unconscious partnership, it’s an awesome one. I think any new member joining would be right in thinking that everyone contributes to the guild’s culture, and my primary responsibility is to find negative contributions and make sure they don’t sour the good thing that we have.

I think I answered that question. Maybe. Sort of, yes and no. What do you think? Does your guild leader shape your guild’s culture, or do you think that’s mostly up to the members? I think it’s probably true that the personality of a guild leader is a larger determinant of culture than I’ve admitted here. I favour collaborative and cooperative environments, so I do my best to recruit people who suit that and to encourage it overall. Perhaps a different guild leader with the same members would create a completely different culture. I’m definitely open to opinions!

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Comments on: "Guild Culture & You" (5)

  1. “But no matter what guild you’re in, all it takes is one drastically different person: drop them into the center and watch the sparks fly!”

    I think this is really the key insight—it’s not merely that culture is influenced by the people in the group—the culture literally is the sum total over all the interactions you get within the group.

    On a large scale, like a province or a country, the effect of one single person on the culture is easy to overlook. On a more human scale, though—a town, a guild, a family—any change of group composition, even just one person coming or going, is enough to change the entire network of culture that exists among that group. With a guild, it’s especially strong, since guildmates interact together in a very limited sphere.

    Guilds—raiding guilds especially—are peculiar. They’re sort of like a military unit, in that each person has some specific expectations, cooperation is necessary, and decision-making is asymmetric (though I’m sure experienced military leaders know you can’t command without the respect of your troops). But they’re also sort of like a family, in that the social and emotional aspects of the relationship matter to the outcome, and the tensions and conflicts among members of the group can’t be sorted out simply by locking someone in the brig or sending them up for a court-martial. Even if you really wish you could. :)

    Your points about trust and respect really seem to be the most important aspect of being an effective guild leader. I’m guessing the fact that you haven’t had some of the troubles you worry about isn’t just good luck—it’s probably also a testament to your ability to feel the pulse of the group, and to mediate the inevitable tensions that result from change. :)

  2. “The end result is (I hope!) a guild that knows I care about what they think and feel, and that I’ll take their opinions and desires into account when making any decisions.”

    I wish I had this type of camaraderie in my guild. Each time I’ve brought up doubts about a player, I’ve been given the brush off only to later have the GL and officers say, “Man, I really wish we hadn’t invited this guy.” It’s happened enough times now that I’m ready to look for another guild. =/

  3. First off, thank you for this post. And thanks to Alas for the inspiration, of course.

    I myself am fairly new to guild leading (in a social guild that happens to have a few 10 man raids in it), so the post has given me some food for thought.

    My guild mates are generally afraid of change within the guild (we decided it was time for a new guild leader after our previous leader had been absent — with a two-week break from not playing — for over a year), so I try to be very wary when it comes to changing anything inside the guild.

    I’m just stating this as a preface to my thoughts.

    A guild’s culture is, in my opinion, comprised of all its members. Just as easily as one person can, through their being a douchecanoe (I stole the term, because I just love it), ruin a guild’s reputation (“Stay away from guild X, I had someone in my group and they were a complete %?/&§”), one individual can spark an arguement that can shatter a whole guild.
    A guild is a conglomeration of individuals. I would like to think that while a guild is more like a mosaic (consisting of individual and unique parts that form a greater picture, whilst staying unique in and of themselves), the culture of it and the picture it evokes in others resembles the infamous melting pot (where the individuals are melted into one big pot and their essence is combined into ONE new thing; the individuals don’t stay individual this way).

    As the guild leader, I see myself more as a sieve for parts that don’t fit the mosaic or would “ruin” the compound in the pot and as a guiding help for the individuals than as a leader.
    I’m not anyone you would gladly follow into battle. Or rather, I wouldn’t feel comfortable leading them into battle. I am more like a guidance counsellor, who tells people their options and tries to help them fulfill their desires in WoW but will not interfere if someone doesn’t think this isn’t for them.

    I won’t re-read the comment, out of fear I might flat-out delete it, so I apologize for the lack of sense of continuity and sense in general. ;)

  4. I love this post. In my past life being my former guild’s guild relations officer, I was keenly aware of trying to keep our guild culture on target.

    You’re right. Guild culture is an evolving thing. I agree with Lara, guilds take from military and also familial influences. For me, I’ve always seen the guild environment as a group I have attachment to, in so much that I’m willing to work my rear-end off for them if I need to.

    One thing that I’ve given thought is how there is a slightly different approach between 10 man and 25 man guilds. Each is a different challenge, and I have reflected on how they both are rewarding to me.

    Helping guide a 25 man raid is a huge challenge, in logistics and attention — at least how I saw it. It wasn’t only the logistics of getting a competent group of players organized; it was how we ran alt runs, or before the lockout system changed, 10 man runs.

    Since there were more people, I found that the opportunity of having subsets or cliques form was something that always I paid attention to. It really pained me that we’d have the “A” team, and then the “B” team, which were the leftovers and maybe some alts.

    So, it was a balancing act when we could raid 25s and 10s each week. You’d have the one team of 10 which was doing the true progression, and the other people were left behind, lucky if they even saw a 10 man guild raid.

    This created a culture I hated, since I had humble beginnings, and through hard work, I became better. So, I have always taken the approach that I am willing to give someone a chance to develop and show me they can contribute. However, the culture was quickly becoming one of the “haves” and “have-nots”.

    So, it was tough when we decided to go to being a 10-man guild in Cataclysm. It wasn’t the fact that I wanted to run 25s, it was the fact that there were people that stuck with us that really weren’t deserving of just being told, “Well, we *may* get a second 10 going, so be patient.” I felt awful about this. I still liked the people in the guild, but the culture got to me, because I felt I failed being its’ steward.

    This brought me to my current guild on Medivh, Waypoint. I started leveling a druid there as a little break from the pressures of trying to hold together a guild, like trying to hold together a lamp you glued with Elmer’s Glue. I truly loved the atmosphere, and I loved the culture that they were wanting to cultivate.

    I enjoyed it so much that I transferred Rezznul over, after my ex-guild leader stated he was burned out and wanted me to take over. I actually was considering it, as I still wanted to get the guild back to where it was when I grew into a good raider, but I found that I truly couldn’t get back to that point without so much work, and even then, I’d most likely burn to a crisp, and that just wasn’t fair to anyone.

    The thing is, the aspect of a family-style environment is evident in both guilds. The attitude is different (my old guild being more cutting and crass, Waypoint being more supportive and silly), but the vibe is the same: we’re in this together.

    Do I miss the old guild, the back-and-forth I developed, how I knew the perfect time for a zinger during raid? Most definitely. However, all good things come to an end, and the time had come there.

    I’m the type of person that may be a bit quiet at first, but when I get comfortable, you wish I’d shut up (well, I’m sure not, as I’m hilarious). I’ve found that for me, the identification and appreciation of a culture really is the key for me to *want* to do whatever they need me to do, so the group can succeed.

    If I can get a few epics in the process, so much the better. :)

  5. [...] prompts and will link them as they are published. For now, I really enjoyed Vidyala’s take on guild culture, and hope you will as well. I think the comments are really insightful as [...]

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