For the past few years, I have been telling my colleagues that my Millennial daughter keeps me relevant and up-to-date. Through the SAT vocabulary games, SAT mystery novels and her Nintendo Wii addiction, this column is probably where my daughter’s hidden influence is strongest. I dedicate this to her.
If you are like me and did not grow up playing multiplayer online games — also known as MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) — it is important to give you some context. Multiplayer online games are a large and growing market with estimates topping 50 million users. “World of Warcraft” alone has about 10 million paying members who each pay a subscription fee of $15 a month. The other leading games include “Eve Online” with 225,000 members, “EverQuest” with 375,000 members and “Lineage” with about 2 million members.
According to the Palo Alto Research Center, participants’ play an average of 20 hours a week, their average age is 27 years old and, yes, more than three-quarters are male (with my daughter being an exception). They are not always your typical corporate employee, but we can learn from how these games are played.
How do virtual teams come together to solve a problem and then disband? What lessons are transferable from playing online games to designing leadership development programs?
The organizational and strategic challenges facing players who serve as game leaders are familiar to many managers in corporate life, namely how to recruit the best talent, how to assess and motivate talent and how to retain a culturally and globally diverse team.
So if we believe that leadership in online games offers insight into what works in developing global leaders, then the logical question is, what can we learn from what is working in these games?
This was the question asked and answered in the May 2008 Harvard Business Review article titled “Leadership’s Online Labs.” Here are some observations from the HBR article:
• Focus less on building individual leadership competencies and more on improving global teaming and collaboration competencies. Often, companies spend a lot of time and resources on leadership training with the assumption that a great leader will make the difference between corporate success and failure. What online games show us is that successful leadership has less to do with the attributes of the individual “leader” and more with creating the “right” environment in which global teams thrive. As the Harvard Business Review article states, “the power of online games is that people care very much about the team’s virtual gains and losses, even if the currency that records them can’t be exchanged for dollars.” In other words, if you want better leadership, try to change the game rather than change the leaders.
• Be transparent in communicating performance. Today’s corporate world is decentralized, fluid and fast-paced, just like gaming environments. How gamers manage these circumstances is worth examining. They offer a data-rich dashboard available to leaders and the entire team, including data on individual and team capability and performance histories. This may sound familiar to companies that already have created dashboards that synthesize and display company metrics, but it’s a reminder of just how important this openness is for reinforcing a message.
• Create profiles of team players. The static employee profile used for decades by human resource officers slowly is being replaced by a “personal employee tag cloud,” where you can view a snapshot of an employee’s personal and professional life: courses taken, language fluency, projects worked on, family photos and work and life goals for next few years.
As you think about what you can take away from the online leadership lessons of game players, ask yourself: What is your department’s “Facebook” strategy? This question discerns whether you have a strategy for integrating the latest social media into your learning offerings. This refers to an ability to understand the tidal wave of changes occurring in the workplace and compels learning professionals to experiment with how they will change to accommodate this.
And now for my change: I want to thank all the readers who have read and commented on my columns for the past five years. I have learned so much from your feedback. As of this month, I will be taking a “sabbatical” from my column to write another book. I will return, though, and I look forward to embarking on a journey with you of reinventing our profession.