can teach us about leadership and collaboration

Sue Gill, GM Strategy

My 16-year old twins have always had a passion for gaming. Having already lived on 3 different continents in their short lives, gaming has been the easiest way to connect with friends even when geography or time zones kept them apart. So, it’s been no surprise to me that during lockdown, gaming has been their go-to means of connection with the outside world.

But let’s be honest, gaming still gets a bad rap – particularly when it comes to kids. Even now when I tell friends and family that I am liberal with the amount of time my boys spend gaming, I am greeted with the sort of social judgement that leaves a particularly uncomfortable vibe lingering well after the initial awkward silence is filled.

It used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. Simply because, as I’ve observed their gaming over the years, what has struck me is that it is providing far more value than simply entertainment or connection. Gaming is teaching them skills about leadership and collaboration that I could never have predicted it would.

1. They don’t need assigned leaders; they just need to know the collective goal

When my boys drop in on a game, there is no point where any of the players feel the need to decide on a leader. They simply get a team together, agree the goal, and get straight into it.

Lack of leaders means shared accountability and authentic equality.  This equality motivates them to not only improve as individuals but to improve as a team; because the shared accountability means they feel the wins and losses far more personally.

2. They hand-raise; they don’t wait to be “managed”

Within the games they play, there are many tasks that need to be done, in order to achieve the overall objective. They don’t feel the need to wait for someone to assign them actions, nor do they do status meetings along the way. They are honest about the skills they bring to the team and put themselves forward to tackle tasks. This self-assigning approach naturally draws those with complimentary, rather than competing skills together, to make a stronger more agile team.  This bottom-up style of working leads to more instinctual collaboration within the team, and ultimately better results.

3. They operate based on an agreed code of conduct; not hierarchy or authority

I asked them how key decisions are made without a leader. They looked at me quizzically and said “It’s easy – we have a code we stick to.  Things have to be fair. No slackers. And you help each other. So maybe one of us is scoping out a place to build our base; while another is gathering wood and another is mining stone. Even with tasks that we don’t like doing, as long as everyone is being fair and chipping in, we get on with it. If someone isn’t pulling their weight; we all call them out on it and then they get back in line.  We all do it together, openly.”

4. They all feed back to each other, consistently, and in real time

The consistent feedback and open communication builds resilience across the team. Celebrating all the little wins and learning quickly from the mishaps means that the team collectively stays motivated and grows stronger together. They don’t do post-mortems, or schedule individual reviews or wait for a manager to assess their performance; learnings are achieved in the moment with everyone present and everyone contributing. It’s a far simpler way of making the collective stronger, together.  

Now I am in no way suggesting a simple lift and shift of principles here – business is obviously more complex than gaming. But what I am proposing is that these observations could be a provocation and opportunity for us to re-think everything from how we work and collaborate through to what leadership looks like in today’s world. Perhaps the broader idea of managers or hierarchy is an outdated concept that was appropriate before technology enabled greater individual accountability and more effortless collaboration.

Perhaps there is room for us to learn from a generation that is yet to be indoctrinated into what is – and use their fresh perspective to challenge sacred cows that may not be all that sacred after all.