Tuesday, 18 August 2009

7 Different Shades of Stupid

If you've ben raiding at all, you've probably been yelled at by a raid leader at some point in time. The yelling, cursing, and blaming raid leader seems to be very common these days. I've heard multiple comments by people who joined our guild that they didn't think raiding was possible without this kind of behaviour.
The good news is: it is! You can lead raids successfully without being a total jerk. Alas, there's a downside to being nice to your raiders in that at some point they will not learn from their mistakes anymore because these are not followed by repercussions. In the following I will discuss how I think a leader should and how he shouldn't treat his raiders.

Never make it personal
As a raid leader you want maximum effectiveness of your raiders with minimum conflict. As a raider you don't want to feel antagonized. Personal attacks do just that, they antagonize. Instead of the desired effect of getting the raider to play better, they can make her angry to the point where she does something stupid. Even if they don't, a happy raider is a good raider. An unhappy one will slack in her duties, stir unrest against the leadership and may eventually leave the guild for a better offer.
Bottom line, don't insult your raiders and keep your criticism on a professional level.

Provide a channel for feedback
Many raiders have opinions on how things should be handled. Be it adjustments to boss tactics or loot distribution. If you don't have a clear way for them to give their feedback to you, they will do it in /ra or voice chat. Having every Jane Shmoe boasting out her opinion on these channels will confuse players and prolong tactic discussions. Raid leaders often ban these kind of conversations from the official channels, sometimes even going as far as banning non-officers from speaking there at all.
Suppressed opinions, however, will not just vanish but instead pile up and eventually erupt uncontrollably. Also there are many raiders that actually have useful things to contribute and you would be worse off if you didn't accept their feedback. The solution therefore is to have an alternate route that feedback can be channelled into. This can be a forum on your website, regular guild meetings, offers to discuss anything outside of raid times, or a relations officer.
Whichever way you chose - make sure people can get their feedback to you. It can only improve your raids.

Keep the final word
A good leader should be able to take suggestions from her followers but still appear to be strong. Take feedback into consideration but make up your own mind based on it and announce your decision. Once you do, make sure that decision is final unless new facts get brought to the table. If a discussion is taking too much time, shut it down. Make a decision and tell people that they can discuss its merits later. Sometimes you have to take the risk of being wrong in order to keep the raid going.

Name and shame
This is likely the most debateable point on my list. I feel that it is essential to let people know when they make mistakes and to let them know that you know. You have two choices in how to do this: in private or in public. If you choose the private way you will probably whisper people when they make mistakes and tell them to fix those. The other option is to call them out on voice chat or /ra. The latter has a higher risk of alienating people as no one likes to be called out for mistakes in front of her peers. The same reasoning also increases the likeliness that your advice will be adhered to, however. If people dislike something, they will try not to repeat it.
You will also show your other raiders that you see what they are doing and that you care about mistakes. This will both keep them on their guard and take away from the feeling that others can play badly and get away with it.

Whichever way you choose, it is essential that you individualize your criticism. Telling your raid over and over again that they need to move out of the fire faster has much less of an effect than telling Jim, Bob, and Katie that they are too slow. You can whisper each one personally or just call them out. But make absolutely sure each one of them knows that it was their fault.

You will get some backtalking if you work this way. People will defend their actions or sulk when they are criticized. This is something both they and you will have to get used to. If they want to be part of a professionally run team, they have to be able to accept criticism. In fact, they should want criticism. No one can catch all their own mistakes and once they are at the point where they don't see them anymore, they need outside help to keep getting better.
It is important for the leadership to pick their raiders in such a way that the team is able to handle criticism. Some will have to learn that virtue first, but don't even try raiding with people that aren't willing to learn to accept their mistakes. Give them all the help you can, make the criticism professional, sensible, and show that nobody is immune from it. But if people just can't take it, go get some new raiders.

A little praise goes a long way
There should always be a carrot to go along with your stick. There will always be more criticism than praise, but make sure that there is at least some praise. The easiest form is group praise. Congratulate the team on a job well done from time to time or tell them about how the last wipe was a big improvement over the previous ones. But don't be shy to use individual praise too.
Unlike naming and shaming I wouldn't necessarily suggest to make individual praise public. This can quickly generate the feeling of favouritism and embarrass the one you are praising. Whispers are the way to go for individual praise, publicity for praising groups.

Raid leading doesn't have to be a constant fight between the leader and the raiders, but it seems advisable not to be too nice. Players won't improve without criticism and a raid leader that doesn't criticize hurts the very same people she's trying to protect. An ideal raid is one where raiders feel like they are involved and valued for their qualities but also accountable for their mistakes. To reach this point one must be able to distinguish between personal feelings and professional results.

The title of this entry refers to an ad for a Ventrilo server provider that currenly runs on wcradio.com. In that ad, TotalBiscuit mimes a raid leader that's pretty much all that a leader shouldn't be.
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