Thursday, June 28, 2012

Teams, Managers, and ICs: lessons from soccer video game


I learned a great lesson in management, team playing, and individual contributors. How did I learn that? Playing a soccer video game.

Back in the day, when I used to play soccer on the weekends, a major difference between actual playing and video game that always struck me was that you control the entire team when holding your game controller. Recently, when exploring the options within Fifa 12, I realized that now one can pick a player and stick to it throughout the match, having only this individual's perspective. And when doing that, I was amazed at a major lesson in management when noticing the perspective difference.

When I play controlling the entire team, it's like I am the manager or the shareholder. I don't actually focus on one particular player, but I want all of them to work well together and in a concerted way. They need, as a team, to reach the goal of scoring. If players do their work of being well positioned and obey my commands to pass, tackle, and shoot, the team has great chances to play well. If they don't perform their activities well or have problems among themselves, that's going to hurt the team. Also, if I, as the team "controller", focus on some particular players, I tend to diminish the changes my team has actually to play well. The lesson is: the focus is on the group.

When I play as a single player, either in real life or as "pro player" at Fifa 12, my perspective changes. When I have possession of the soccer ball, more often than not, I think of the pleasure I can get out of it. I try to score, because that's what will give me the ultimate joy. Sometimes I will pass to other players, but I'll try to dribble and keep control of the ball more than I should. I no longer have the team perspective, and not necessarily make the best decision for the team.

If the focus is on the team, what does it mean for the individual player? That he may feel privileged in certain situations when the circumstances allow, but quite often he will feel hurt, not having the "right opportunities" if you will. And that's what is very challenging, because on one hand the manager wants the employee to feel motivated to focus and get great work done. For that to happen, it will vary based on the person, but typically the motivators are possibility of learning, growth, taking on more challenges. On the other hand, the manager has the big picture view of how to get the best of that group of people - even because that is how the manager's performance is primarily measure. However, this team's plan not always aligns with the individual's expectations.

And this is just from a purely objective perspective, not to mention the many subjective aspects of this interaction between manager and reports, like potential personal preferences, inaccurate assessment of report's skills, among others.

An individual to succeed and to survive for any substantial amount of time in an organization needs to understand that not always the decision made by management will be understood without access to the same data as management had. There will be times when the best for the team or for the company will come at the expense of some individual's expectations - irrespective of being rock stars or not. There's nothing to be done about that and if you source of joy and happiness is only what you do at work, you're taking risks of having phases when your expected level of joy will not be matched and will definitely not come from that source.
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