I did some digging lately into both project management and company management. One of the things I found that were seriously problematic, but also emblematic for the games industry is dysfunctional companies and dysfunctional teams.

The hallmark of a dysfunctional company/ team are the following five traits. They’re a theory created by Patrick Lencioni.

Lack of Trust
There’s no trust between individual contributors and team leadership. This expresses itself among other ways as micro management and secretive development. Team leads or project leadership will hand over solutions instead of pointing out issues and trust the developer or the team to solve the issues themselves. Siloing teams from one another is another way this expresses itself. The team members do not trust each other to do the work. It, in turn, causes people to step on each other’s toes and exclude one another from important information.

Specific to the industry, a lack of trust can also take the form of a reluctance to go to managers or HR to solve problems surrounding behaviour or someone not doing their job. Fear of retaliation is also common.

Fear of Conflict
If there’s no trust, there’s no open conflict. Instead of openly discussing issues and dealing with problems head on, these issues are buried under a blanket of artificial harmony. Usually, the fear of conflict returns at a later date to bite people in the butt when it turns out that the tech required doesn’t work or the performance tanks, or whatever may be the issue. Fear of conflict is the mother of all crunch. That, and an avoidance of accountability.

Lack of Commitment
If you’re constantly being second guessed by leadership, if you have leads micro managing your work and if you’re afraid to bring up potential issues, it is very easy to go “I don’t care”. If you don’t have ownership over your own work, why should you feel invested in it? It’s easier to just not care.

If leads keep changing the parameters you are working towards that’s also a death knell to commitment. If someone keeps changing what you do, why should you care about what you do?

Avoidance of Accountability
This one is my favourite because I’ve seen it SO many times. If leadership keeps telling you one thing and then does another and doesn’t own those decisions, you’re in trouble. If leadership keep uprooting decisions without holding themselves responsible, how can you expect someone on the production line to hold themselves accountable?

I don’t know how many projects I’ve been on where there’s no sign off, no reviews, no checkmarks, and because there isn’t, work constantly changes, except no-one takes responsibility and the result is crunch.

Inattention to results
If there’s no trust, if there’s fear of conflict, lack of commitment and avoidance of accountability, the results suffer. You’ll end up with a team that doesn’t care about the bigger picture, all they’ll care about is their own work, and barely that.

If you have a team that only looks to their own little piece of the game, you’ll end up with a disjointed experience. And because of a fear of conflict, no one will tell the leadership team that there’s a problem with the game.

If you find yourself in a situation with a team like this, it will take a lot of effort to fix it. The first step is always to build trust, but trust must come from leadership. The culture in a company trickles down. I’ve seen so many companies trying to foist the responsibility for things like diversity and inclusion on the individual contributors, but that is almost never where the issues are. Culture trickles down.

If there’s no trust at the higher levels, building trust at a grass roots level is going to be difficult. If you want to be a good leader, here’s what you do:

  • Build trust by trusting your team mates.
  • Don’t shy away from conflict. Talk about it.
  • Commit to your work and to your team.
  • Hold yourself and others accountable for your commitments.
  • Focus on the results, not the journey there.

A team is only as good as its leadership crunch happens when there’s dysfunction in the team.