Leading Teams As A Stoic (2/2)
In a previous post, I wrote about what you can and cannot control as the Team Lead.
So, what exactly do you need to focus on?
Your biggest area of impact is the Team
As a team lead, it’s tempting to want to control everything but the most impactful area is the team.
Team Structure and Evolution
- I love the analogy from Jim Collins: “Getting the right people on the bus”. Your role as the team lead is to make sure you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats. It’s essential to recognize when the bus is going to new destinations and that some people may not be up for the ride. Your responsibility is also to help those people get off the bus when the time comes.
- What keeps a team motivated in the long term is autonomy, mastery, and relatedness. While you might be able to create autonomy and relatedness on your own, mastery is more challenging. Do your team members keep growing and learning with what they do? Are they using their best strengths and skills? Are they challenged at their skill level (or even above it)? While you cannot control how people feel, you can support their development with training, assigning the right people to the right projects, and defining adequate team goals.
Source: Dream Teams by Shane Snow
Team System and Culture
- Founder Values: As the studio lead, my main responsibility is not only to create amazing games but also to create an environment for amazing teams to create amazing games. When I’m speaking about the team environment, I’m specifically referring to culture and processes. As the lead, the culture starts with you — the values you embody, the way you act, and the decisions you make.
- Full Transparency: The core value of our culture is to treat everyone on the team as equal partners with full transparency about every situation. For example, when I decided to stop running our game Plantopia, it wasn’t a management top-down decision, but a decision I made for the studio’s long-term viability. I shared the whole business case and my reasoning with the team before getting their support (more about the full reasoning here). Giving the team comprehensive insights empowers them to autonomously make better decisions in the future.
- Constant Growth: We look back and reflect on everything we do. We have regular retrospectives and post-mortems documented on Notion.
- Leadership System: Although we were not a big team, I decided to create a leadership group inside the studio — this way, not all of the strategic thinking and decision-making relies on one person. I wanted to surround myself with a team of partners, rather than “employees,” to tackle the challenge of cracking new casual games at Voodoo together. With one lead per craft, we ensured everyone in the team had a close supervisor for 1:1 development talks. Breaking down the team into smaller tight groups reinforced everyone’s sense of belonging and psychological support. No one ever felt alone or helpless during the tough times.
Studio Vision, Strategy, and Communication
As the lead, you are responsible for setting the long-term vision and goals of the studio. To affirm the team’s sense of purpose, it’s critical to give them a long-term goal, — the Why. Your team will need this, especially in hard times, when some might ask themselves “Why am I enduring this (pain)?”
Source: Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Here are examples of processes we set in place to ensure transparent, open, and regular communication about studio goals and direction:
- Quarterly Reviews: I review the studio strategy every quarter and update the team on our strategy: what we achieved last quarter, which goals we missed and why, and what we’re aiming for next quarter.
- Monthly All-hands: once a month I run an all-hands meeting to go over the studio topics including people, strategy, and company updates. I leave the end of the session open for Q&A and for people to share their concerns.
- Monthly Pulse Survey: Once a month, I get our team’s feedback about our strategy and culture through an anonymous survey. This way, people can always feel comfortable sharing how they feel about the current directions of the studio or culture.
- Timely Communication: When there is big company news that is sensitive and could affect our team, I share it with the team in a timely way. I either organize an ad-hoc all-hands meeting to deliver the news or if it’s not sensitive, I leave a voice message in our general Slack channel to give the full context.
- Team 1:1: I have a 1:1 with everyone on the team — bi-weekly with my direct reports, and monthly with my indirect reports. This is the place where anyone can ask me specific questions about the strategy or company, with full transparency. On top of that, the craft leads also have their regular 1:1 with the people from their craft, ensuring the same level of close communication and transparency with each team member.
- Strategic Offsites: Twice a year, we gather with the team to reflect on the past six months in the studio and focus on a specific theme. For example, our very first offsite theme was building social connections in the team. We rented a house in nature to work together and exchange ideas on what we could do better in the studio’s future.
- Fear Setting and Kill Scenario: When there are important studio changes, we gather in a workshop to talk openly about our fears and list the situations that can affect our studio. The benefit of this exercise is to crystallize individual and collective fears, give a safe space for the group to express those fears and identify actionable ways to mitigate the fear scenarios from happening. For example, I had the fear that if we would stop Plantopia, the team would feel less motivated to work on something else and maybe even consider leaving. My first step was to have a conversation openly with the team to know how they would feel if we were not working on Plantopia anymore. The second step was to already start to give visibility on what we could do if not Plantopia. When we finally decided to “kill” the game, we were already mentally and logistically prepared for it.
The important piece about transparency is to always share the reality of the risks with the whole team, not only to leads. Being fully transparent is an essential part of the process of building an Antifragile team. It reinforces the trust, maturity, and resilience of the group.
Source from my Masterclass here
The only thing you can control is you
As a leader, you cannot control events and uncertainty in a team — only the way you act, respond, and behave can influence the actions and behaviors of others.
If you are negatively affected by the events, it will negatively impact your team. Fear creates more fear. Distrust creates more distrust.
The opposite is also true. If you display confidence and calm no matter what happens, the team will also feel that way. The challenge is keeping consistency when everything around is permanently moving.
Can you keep the course of your values and vision, no matter what the situation is?
In times of uncertainty, I found this list of internal questions very helpful to take a step back, reflect, and act on the things I can change:
- How is this event affecting me and why?
- What is the underlying fear behind this event?
- What can I do if this fear scenario happens?
- What can I do now?
As we get more responsibilities as a lead, it is easy to get caught in the daily grind and not prioritize the time to think about the bigger questions about the team, strategy, and culture.
I found the core of the problem not to be the time but energy. You can have more time but if you have no energy, you go nowhere.
Energy is the flow of life. So, how can you get more of it?
Some events use up our energy, and some events boost our energy. The first step is to list all the events that happen in your daily life (work and personal) and assess if those take or give you energy:
- Drop, outsource or delegate (if you can) the events that take your energy
- Prioritize the events that give you energy, and where you can have the biggest impact
- Re-design your weekly schedule accordingly
This is my weekly schedule after I curated it:
- I make sure to have white space in my schedule, for strategic and creative work. This time is blocked in my calendar and no one can book a meeting at that time.
- I make time for events that give me energy and inspiration: workout, dance, yoga, meditation, learning activities, podcast interviews, me-time, time with friends, and my relationship.
- I try to pack my 1:1s and meetings in the same block of a day to avoid task switching.
- I drop meetings where my attendance doesn’t bring value. If I need to be informed, I will follow up later on the conclusions.
- I outsource tasks that should or would be better done by someone else when my unique skills and strengths are not put to use.
This might seem counterintuitive to think that by being less busy, you become more productive. But don’t forget — your main area of impact is the team. It requires permanent reflection, getting new perspectives, and finding emotional stability and clarity. For this, you need time and energy.
In my final words, it is not about the volume of tasks you are doing or the number of decisions you are making. It is about the few but impactful decisions you will make about the team, your culture, and your strategy.
So how do you lead your team under constant uncertainty? Focus on what you can control, which is yourself. Build a great team and culture, the rest will take care of itself.
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Here are the resources that inspired me in my Stoic and Leadership journey :