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

This is a post I’ve been working on off and on for the better part of a year – I’d always pick it up, poke at it a bit, and then set it back down. After a year of being in a dedicated ten man raiding guild, I feel finally qualified to post it. Especially with the changes to raid lockouts and item level in Cataclysm, I expect that the ten man scene is only going to grow and more people are going to be raiding in ten person groups! This expands on some of the philosophies we have that I think have set a solid foundation for our success in Wrath of the Lich King.

The opportunity to experience group play at the end-game of WoW is one of the strongest draws for many players. I believe this to be true, because otherwise – we’d be playing a game solo (and some people do!). We wouldn’t be trying to band together to kill internet dragons. There’s a particular rush that comes from being part of a group of people accomplishing something together. You can liken it to a sports team scoring that winning goal, or a group of professionals finally completing a project they’ve been working on. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle – we’re accomplishing things together, but we’re not physically together; in many cases we’ve never even met each other.

Many raiders who opt to focus exclusively on ten person content do so because they want an intimate atmosphere. When you have just nine other people counting on you, and you spend twelve or more hours with them every week – you get to know each other pretty well. You’re there for the high points and the low; you share that tough kill you finally pulled off and the Vent channel erupts in cheers, or the boss you can’t down and so people rally around the forums to talk strategy, and figure out a way to make it happen.

This is your team, and it’s an awesome feeling. When it’s going well, it’s amazing. Every guild has rockier parts, and those are tougher to deal with. But many issues that arise are best dealt with a long time before they even crop up, by making sure to nurture and tend to the team. If a team is solid and committed, they can shrug off difficulties easily. If there are already weak points – applying pressure will cause them to start to crack. So how can officers, raid leaders and guild leaders help their raid team to feel like a team?

I could pretend I chose this screenshot to be somehow metaphorical, but really I just think it's a cool screenshot. Also, do you see how straight a line we stand in? We're so DISCIPLINED.

1. Encourage Input.

I can’t stress this enough. When people feel like their ideas are not just heard, but listened to, they’ll know that they’re a valuable part of the group. This comes into play in several different ways.

  • A guild’s forums can be an excellent venue for contribution from all members. Keep in mind that not everyone has an equal amount of time to devote to these, so your mileage may vary. Some are heavily into strategies and might post all the time, others may prefer to hang back until they have something to say. It’s particularly important to listen up when someone who is usually quiet does say something. Try and encourage an atmosphere where people feel free to speak their minds, or at least contact an officer or raid leader privately.
  • Most raiders use some form of verbal contact during raids. This is where much of the ‘in-the-moment’ strategies occur, and it’s important to give people the opportunity to chime in. The freedom of a ten-man group is that there’s room for different folks to speak up. Within reason – it can be detrimental to have a flurry of voices always talking at the same time on the channel. Raid leaders and officers can help direct the flow a little bit by asking for clarification, or asking someone to repeat what they said if it was lost in the fray.
  • Don’t think this means you are obligated to always listen to every idea, or give everyone equal stage time – most people don’t want it. Again pay particular attention to contributions from those who don’t speak up often, listen when any member has an idea – and then make the final call. This only works if you are truly sincere and consider alternative ideas. Remember there’s a time and a place – it’s okay to say, “Let’s talk about this on the forums later,” rather than spending twenty minutes debating strats and eating up valuable raid time. This only works if you really will talk about it on the forums later!

2. Foster an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes.

In a ten-person raid, many times there isn’t much margin for error. When it comes to tough progression content, a single blunder could spell a wipe and mean everyone is corpse-running again. People are going to make mistakes, so try and foster an environment in which it’s okay to make them – at least once – and more importantly: people are encouraged to admit it.

  • This can be best accomplished leading by example. No one should ever be allowed to berate or belittle another raid member for making a mistake. Even if it was a dumb mistake, and even if they’ve done it before. Quickly and firmly call out anyone who does this, and let it be known that it isn’t acceptable behaviour, while shifting attention back to the task at hand.
    “Oh, come on, Squishy Healer, why can’t you get out of void zones fast enough?” can easily be met with,
    “Mistakes happen, Hunterly. Now, does everyone have their graphics settings high enough that they can easily see these void zones?”
  • Not making people feel like a heel for messing up will make the next step easier, and that is: when you make a mistake, be the first to admit it, don’t make excuses, and don’t shift blame. You aren’t saying, “I guess that was my fault, if only SO AND SO hadn’t dropped that shadow trap right underneath me.” Keep it simple and direct. “That was my mistake, guys. I was too slow to polymorph the person who was MCed. Sorry about that.” It never feels awesome to know that you wiped the raid, but it’s better than the ominous vent silence. Everyone usually knows who messed up anyway, trust me. They’ll respect you more, not less.
  • Soon, hopefully, a magical thing will happen. Everyone will own up to their own mistakes without hesitation! Rather than feeling like a group of individuals who has to defend their individual performance at all costs to protect and make themselves look best, hopefully everyone will be more forgiving of the mistakes of others, and unafraid to admit their own. It’s worth noting that sometimes mistakes might be more chronic and indicative of someone who just isn’t performing. If the same mistakes are happening over and over again, it’s another matter and should be dealt with privately.

"Look at this pretty totem here!... hey, you know, trolls aren't so bad! Maybe I should stay here in Zul'Gurub with them...This is a great idea!"

3. Make sure to relate outside of a raiding situation.

  • If you’re focused on ten-person raiding, chances are your guild will be small enough that the members will get to know each other pretty well. Help to make the guild a friendly place to be by chatting in the guild channel, asking people questions about themselves, and doing things with other members outside of raid times. I know this sounds hopelessly managerial – and I don’t mean “pretend to be friends with people.” It’s just that sometimes all of the tasks of an RL, officer, or GL can blind you to the reason you’re really here and why you are with these specific, awesome people.
  • The value of this is that when it’s raid time, when everyone knows the other people quite well they won’t feel that their only value to the guild is their DPS or healing numbers or how many hit-points they have. Stronger friendships make for stronger teams! This may not every one’s strong suit; some people are naturally more quiet than others. This leads directly into the fourth point, which can apply in both a high-stress raiding environment and otherwise.

4. Play to people’s strengths.

  • A team is only as strong as its weakest member, but weakest is subjective in this point. Learn to identify who excels at what in your group, let them contribute and then value their contributions. Does one person really enjoy fishing in their off-hours? Use their help to supply your raid with some consumables. Some people are natural leaders with tactical minds; these are the ones that you can lean on during raids, or talk strategy with in-between. Others may not have much to contribute tactically, but they can always pick others up when the mood starts to drop. Everyone has things that they are good at, and letting them show it will help keep everything rolling smoothly.
  • Raids would actually be pretty boring if everyone was focused on the same things. Some people can learn more quickly than others, especially when unique fight mechanics are involved. If your uber-DPS player is bored, give him or her a special task. Pull them off the boring, stand-alone boss and set them to add duty, or have them calling out timers if the fight requires it. Just because the raid has a raid leader doesn’t mean other people can’t be crucial to leading the group to success.
  • People will always excel at the role they most want to play. It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Don’t force your healers to DPS if they don’t want to – and if you have to do so, make sure it’s a responsibility shared among all the healers equally. If one person is constantly having to step outside their comfort zone while the others get off scot-free, they’re liable to grow resentful (and who could blame them)?

5. Help your team grow its skills.

  • Nobody is perfect, and no team is ever perfect. You may have excellent players individually, but they may not do things as well together. This last point is broad for a reason – it could apply to so many things. I remember when we first started working on the heroic Lich King encounter – all of the ranged DPS and healers had to clump up as part of the phase one strategy. At first it was tough; we weren’t used to paying such close attention to where the other team members were. By the time we’d practiced it, we were like one living organism strafing to the right and left together. It was fabulous.
  • “Skills” in this sense doesn’t have to mean raiding skills. Running five-mans together, PvPing together – all of these hone the reflexes and group communication necessary for good raiding. Even playing a character I had no idea how to play, I’ve never felt so indestructible in PvP as I did when I was doing it with my guildies and we had instant Vent communication. PvP is good practice for movement, situational awareness, and quick communication. You don’t have to PvP to be a good raider, but anywhere you’re working with your guild is going to benefit you all in the long run.

"Tirion, why are you gigantic? And what are all these fish feasts doing here?"

Finally, but not unimportantly:

6. Stay positive no matter what.

  • I’m not writing this from the perspective of Ms. Perfect, believe me! Some of this I’ve observed from my own mistakes, and I don’t always do all of these things or remember them as often as I should. But the last (and possibly the most important thing) is to remember that if you are in a position of leadership in a guild, people look to you to set the tone.Your attitude can impact success more than you ever suspect, not necessarily because of things you say but things that you don’t say – or the way that you say them.
  • Look for solutions, remember that things aren’t up to you alone – you have built a team of great people for a reason. Don’t be afraid to seek solutions from them if you are stumped. Keeping in contact with how your guildies feel can help you know where to focus your energies and avert any problems before they begin.

Incidentally, I wrote this based on a ten-person environment because that’s what I know, but many of the same principles could apply equally to a larger group. If you feel moved to write something similar or more expansive for a twenty-five man team, or you have anything you’d like to add – feel free to contribute in the comments or send me a link!

I hope this is even remotely useful to read. Raiding with Business Time has been such a rewarding and humbling experience for me – I know that we owe all of our success to each and every guild-member. I’m just the one who likes to talk too much.

p.s. – Yes, it’s a Flight of the Conchords joke, and I’m not ashamed.

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Comments on: "Team Building Exercise ’99: Fostering A Sense of Teamwork For Tens" (8)

  1. Awesome post Vid – pretty much sums up my approach to raid leading (and team leading at work is much the same) putting it into words I would never have achieved!

    The one thing I would add – probably coming under the first point – or as a result of point 1 (which actually leads to point 2 happening) is that encouraging input leads to ownership. It then becomes less “Gameldar’s” raid but “our” raid.

  2. Really good Post Vid

    This reminds me of the popular leadership book Five Dysfunctions of a Team (if you’ve gone to b-school you’ve probably read this book)

    The 5 Dysfunctions of a team are (which can be converted into 5 dysfunctions of a guild)

    1. Absence of trust. This stems from the team member’s unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes/weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation of trust. (aka – the too quiet vent after a wipe – i hope they didn’t notice that was me who failed to do x)

    2. Fear of Conflict: Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments (aka – whispers or the empty forum)

    3. Lack of Commitment: Without having aired their opinions in the course of debate, team members rarely, if ever buy in an commit to decisions, though they feign agreement during meetings (aka – the “yes, i don’t care, just pull already” ready check)

    4. Avoidance of accountability: Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team. (aka – not asking why was marrowgar facing the raid question)

    5. Inattention to results: This happens when team members put their individual needs above the collective goals of the team (aka – dps meters over omen)

    i’d be happy to do a guest post :)

    • I would love it if you would! Let’s talk some more about it. I’m flattered that you think there’s a remote possibility I went to business school – I went to art school, its polar opposite. ;) I have lived with Voss for nearly a decade, though, which has been a sort of crash course in business school. He “subtly” leaves books lying around (and I move them so that he can demand, “Who moved my cheese?”)

      Most recently I’ve been skimming “Say It Right The First Time,” I find it really interesting.

    • I too would love to read a guest post of yours, Pan. This is a topic we rarely discuss together even though we have similar backgrounds.

      These are good rules, Vid. And stop moving my cheese!

  3. [...] the time. She’s stepped back and put some thoughts down on – well, the ether – about good practice for a 10 man team. Good timing really, given it could be just what you or someone you know needs to read if [...]

  4. Really great advice for guild leadership, Vid! I strongly agree with all the sentiments you express, and would also second the incredible team-building that is guild PVP.

    It adds a whole new level of coordination and reaction time. It’s one thing to say “need skull to move to ranged” on Festergut, it’s entirely different to come up with on-the-fly strategies & techniques to combat unpredictable opponents in a battleground, or even just honing one’s ability to think on their feet. PVE isn’t unpredictable, you might say? Say that to a group when a healer D/C’s and the MT dies. A well coordinated group might be able pull though, but a group not prepared for surprises will just get smeared.

  5. Excellent post! Have you encountered MMO Leader (http://mmoleader.com)? This article would be excellent to add to the discussion there.

  6. [...] last, but certainly not least, Vidyala wrote an excellent post on fostering a sense of teamwork in 10-man raids. My Horde guild is switching focus to 10s in Cata so this post was very timely and will undoubtedly [...]

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