Why does eSports teams need structured meetings?

One of the strongest and most important features of professional development is teamwork. As any leader or even sports professional whether they could have achieved what they do without the help of a great team, and you will get the same answer. Translating this wisdom directly into the way the eSports teams meet and work, will have a great impact on both productivity and creative development. The following e-booklet will dive into an exploration of how experience from business and sports can help drive the development of team development in eSports.

The biggest part of team development theory evolves around team communication. The ability of a group of individuals to share and use each other’s knowledge and ideas, to further construct new solutions, strategies and products. This is a skill that leadership teams have used literature, consultants and experts to learn and understand for decades. There is much to be learned from this, when we turn our focus towards eSports teams. The ability to use the knowledge of the individual team members to create a collective creative communication will lead to maximizing the team potential.

To make sure that teams does not dive straight into the challenge of developing their communication in this manor, two preliminary factors are shortly described. They will not be thoroughly examined in this particular e-booklet, as they are described in some of our other e-booklets. But they are important for the teams to be aware of, as they are impossible to steer around when trying to become better at team communication. The two factors are team analysis and team culture.

Team analysis

To achieve a level of excellence in communication, some ends must meet. It is important for the team to be aware of their shortcomings and strengths, as these define what the team can build from and expand upon. Whether you believe that talent is something you are born with, or that it can be build and nurtured, there is always much to gained from analyzing a team. The focus of this e-booklet is not about the analyzing of eSports teams, but it is important to understand that a vital component of the potential of structured meetings rests in the understanding of the team itself.

Team culture

Secondly, a team must learn how to work on their culture, with open mindedness and curiosity, rather than arrogance and hostility. There are numerous accounts of great teams being destroyed be greater egos – never a situation anyone with an interest in a team development wants to be part of. But again this is not the main focus of the e-booklet. It is mentioned, as it is important to understand the culture of the team, to achieve the potential of structured meetings.

Process development

Most importantly to understand and utilize the power of a structured meeting, a team must learn how to control and enhance their process. Process development is a concept that deals with the structuring of communication. It can be pictured as one of the two legs that communication stands upon. The obvious part of any conversation is the words being said, the theme discussed and the opinions being put forward – the “what”. This is the first leg of communication. The second is the “how” of communication. The “how” is process of discussing the “what”.

To illustrate with an example, imagine a meeting between four peers, discussing how to create a better schooling system. They might start out the meeting by someone putting forth their point, and then the rest applying their opinions to the matter. But they might also start by a small presentation of the current facts of the project, leading into the presenter interviewing each of the listeners. Or it might be better that the team is structured into roles, one being the subject holder, one being a positive critic, one being a negative, and the last one drawing notes. The point of all of these examples is to illustrate that there are many ways of addressing the “how” of communication, even though the “what” is the same.

Let us translate what we know into an example from an eSports team: Before a competition with a big pricepool, a CS:GO team meets up to discuss how they can react to their opponents usual strategies on the Train map. They sit down, and the teamleader starts of the team by stating that they are going to do this competition, and should discuss how they can beat their opponents on Train. Everyone lives and breathes this game, and therefore they start spurting out their ideas and strategic plans. The player who is known as the best player puts forth an idea. This quickly leads to the team settling for this one strategy. They believe it might counter their opponents play. But their only evidence is their collective gut-feeling, and whatever product they might have made (a drawing or a written strategy) which to a high degree is the subject of the team’s culture.

If we take a step back in their process, and apply the “structured meetings process focus” to their work, it might have looked differently. First off, one of the keystones of a good structured meeting is to have an agenda. This is not just the “napkin-agenda”, written by one of the teammembers a few seconds before the team meets. This is an agenda, that includes the purpose, the process description, the goal and the evaluation of each item on the agenda, so that everyone attending the meeting understands what is going to be the point of the meeting. Let us apply this knowledge to the teams meeting:

The team knows that they are going to go up against a certain team in the coming competition. When the teamleader calls the team in for a meeting, he gives each of them a written agenda (electronic or in hand), stating what the purpose of their discussion is: discuss what strategy we can use to deal with our opponent’s typical strategies on Train. He also included the process: (1.) we are going to go through our opponent’s current strategies from their last big tournaments and (2.) then go over our own typical strategies. (3.) Then we will discuss what we can do to overcome them. Below he has written his idea of the goal of the agenda item: having a clear idea of how we’re going to practice our game to win against this particular opponent. Lastly, he included a point called evaluation: how was this way of doing our process? Did we gain what we wanted? What did we learn? What did not work? All of the teammates receives the agenda in advance, and reads it. Some of them might have additions to the agenda, or even the individual points, and sends them back to the leader, who then examines and includes the points he finds to be useful into the revised agenda.

As it might become more evident by know, process has a lot to do with structure. Though agenda is a “pre-meeting” process tool as much as it is a “in-meeting” tool, it is of great importance that is made in the way that fits each individual team, and is subject to constant evaluation and development. With the agenda the team now has a preparation step to their meeting as well, which is guided towards the purpose and goal of the team. Sometimes it takes the entire team to even write up the agenda, and a preliminary meeting might be in order (of shorter duration than the “work-meeting” itself).

Hopefully it is already easier to understand how a focus on “how” we communicate can help us make better process, ultimately giving us a better product. In this next chapter we will discuss a few tools you can apply, and how a culture change can help provide better structured meetings. It is important to take note that this is not a manual on how to achieve a top level of communication as a team – it is an inspirational e-booklet to help the reader get an overview and understanding of process development within an eSports team.

The “hows” of a structured meeting

In this section we will present three different ways of playing with the “how”, to achieve new ways of doing your eSports meeting. We will try to make it easy to see the applicability to the eSports reality by employing examples from our work with communications development.

A good way to think about these three ways of dealing with the “how” of a structured meeting, is to think of them as tools. Just as it is not easy to hammer a nail into a plank with a saw, these tools of “how” might not be equally good for every meeting, and are to be used with consideration to the purpose and goal of the agenda item.

Even further, the tool analogy gives us a clue as to how we must use the three communication tools: one does not learn to master the saw until he has sawed a few planks. The potential of the saw is not utilized until it is understood. It is the same with any tools of communication. It takes work and practice, fails and victories to learn how to use them properly.

Let us jump into it!

The reflecting team

The reflecting team is a very simple tool, that is sometimes inherent in some teams that we work with, without them being aware. The general idea of the tool is to position a team of at least four in the following positions/roles: Interviewer, interviewee and reflecting team (two persons). The interviewer asks the interviewee questions of the subject at hand, with ONLY the two of them speaking, the rest listening. Then the interviewer and the reflective team discusses what the interviewee has said, looking for strong/weak-points and different perspectives, while the interviewer and interviewee listens. After a given time frame, the team members rotate into a new position, and the process is repeated until everyone has been through all the roles.

This means that within the eSports arena, this tool should be applied when it is important that everyone gets a chance to speak, and in which all perspectives are welcome in order to create the best possible product. Subject matters that can be qualified by this approach could be: creative new strategy development, personal development (as the reflective team gives feedback on the personal story or ideas of the interviewee), sharing of opposing propositions (it is sometimes easier to give a perspective when they receiver is forced to just listening), analyzing and developing the teams values, and many more.A translation into an example is given here:

A League of Legends team are trying to develop a new way of doing their individual practices so that it fits the purpose of the entire team. Formerly this had given them quite some tension within the team’s social dynamics, as there was a great deal of different perspectives as to what worked best for each person. Now one of the team members suggested that they tried out a communications tool he read about, to grasp the subject from a now angle. The team divides themselves into an interviewer, an interviewee and a reflecting team of three (the last of the three is taking notes at the same time). An interview lasts 15 minutes. After the interview, the reflecting team discusses what they heard their teammate saying, highlighting how they liked the ideas he put forth, and what surprised them, and what they think might not work. Then they each rotate to a new role. When all five members have been through all the roles, the team takes a break before regrouping to discuss what new ideas and inspirations they have now developed from the process of the reflecting team.

As is seen in the example, it is often very useful to gather again after the process has been completed, to pick up on the learning and understanding gained from the process. One way that is always qualifying the process, is if the following meeting begins with a round of the “note-taking reflective team member” presenting their notes of each of the interviews, and the team then discussing learning point and ideas they wants to pursue later on.

It should be noted that this tool is not good for a meeting in which the team must be making decisions. It is a creative tool, to expand on the collective knowledge and ideas of the team. It can be a vital part of the process required to reach a decision nonetheless.

Roles of the team

Getting into character!

Using this next tool might require some training and an open mind from the participants. Once the team experiences what this can do for them, it might become a household method for the team, or they might discard it all together. Nonetheless it is a quite effective way of forcing the individuals to situate themselves in a listening position.

The Process

The basics of this method, is to use role descriptions to create a temporary ruleset for each individual in the team. These roles could be “extra critical thinker” or “extremely positive thinker” or “reflector”, or any other role that may prove useful to your current subject matter. Whatever you decide, it is critical that you decide on the rules of the individual role together, and make sure they fit the subject you are discussing. Let us dive straight into an example once again:

A PUBG team is working out how to practice new strategies of moving across the map, in a safe way. They have already decided on some ideas that they want to further analyze and work on. They have already play-tested all of the ideas, but their trying to fine tune the ideas even more.

So far in their meetings on the subject, they have been discussing the strategies the liked the most, and feel like they are not moving forwards – they just keep agreeing that the strategy they have chosen as the best one, is the one they are going to use.

But they all agree that they believe they could make the strategy even better. Suddenly one of the team members remembers a process she used while working at a creative digital bureau. She tells the team about it, explaining how they put up a sort of roleplay, with very set roles, to turn the project on its head. The team all agrees that they will give it a chance.

They decide on five roles;

  • The extreme critic (must be critical of every single small detail)
  • The curious George (has to scrutinize every single little detail of how the strategy will work)
  • The strategy owner (answers most of the questions, and explains how she perceives the strategy)
  • The reflector (has to explain what she hears every 5 minutes)
  • The scribbler (takes notes on everything she finds interesting and/or important)

At first, they keep laughing at each other for even trying this sort of crazy strategy. But after some time working like this, they adjust and start accepting their current role. They quickly learn it works best, if only the strategy owner answers all the questions, and they decide to switch every 10 minutes, so that it does not get too tiering for either of the roles. After they have all been through each role, and the scribblers have gathered their notes, they discover three points in which they could improve their strategy, and even get the idea for two new strategies.

Strengths and weaknesses

The strength of this method and process is that it is versatile and can produce a lot of new ideas and information. It furthermore gives the team a very clear perspective on how they each understand the subject they are discussing – and find differences and weak-points in their current collective understanding.

The weakness is that it requires a great deal of trust between the team members. It can be quite challenging to take on any of the roles, as it is not necessarily a natural role for some of the individuals. It also takes some time to get used to working with the tool, leaving it very easily dismissible. If the team works to adjust it to their situation and current team dynamic, it can be very rewarding though. Often this process is helped a long way by having a team-development expert as a facilitator and coach alongside the team.

Subject matters that can be qualified by the process differs greatly. Error-spotting and weakness discussions can often spring from this process, especially when an extreme critic can go nuts and hail down her sharpest thoughts onto a subject. This can be very fragile for a team to discuss and should be done in the manner which the strength of the team’s trust and resilience can muster. This is NOT a good tool for a team that does not have trust in each other.

Depending on the roles and rules you set for the process, sometimes the tool can be one of the greatest for creative development. Giving new life to old ideas or creating something completely new, can be results of for example applying a “crazy-rule-bender” role (someone who does not look at the subject itself, but ask why the team has decided to do this way in the first place).

If a LoL team were discussing how they could bolster their ability to roam the map, a rule bender might be the one to suggest a five-man mid, five man gank group (not that this would work). Suggesting something

We all know what the Meta is. Until a meta changes. A Meta changes when someone makes something that is unlikely to work, turn into a success. This take creative, curious development. And it can be provoked by an inquisitive team setting.

It is often not a good idea to use this process to make decisions, as its main purpose is to expand on the current knowledge of the group, not to single out the most important road to go by. As is the way of most communication, it is a fluid and reflective process, which can be bended and molded into what we like, when we learn to control it.that messes with the meta-rules, can sometimes make new ideas spring into life. Sometimes they may even be useful. At the least they force the team to revisit why they do, as they currently do.

Collective graphical facilitation

Why on earth would we start drawing?

Get out your crayons and get that A4 ready. We are about to draw up some new knowledge.

This next suggestion for structured meetings may for some seem even crazier than the ones before. However crazy it sounds at first, be sure to give this a chance. It is backed up by tons of research and after some consideration of the underlying basic human cognitive mechanics, it makes perfect sense. We will get back to that.

They purpose of this tool, is to further the collective understanding of the subject or project that the team is working on. The basics are that the team draws what it is discussing.

Maybe you know the feeling of trying to make someone understand what you are talking about. Even when both of you agree that you understand what is being discussed, sometimes your understanding is actually still very different. Luckily, when you draw what you are talking about, it becomes both easier to understand, and harder to misunderstand. It also forces you to be even more precise in your communication because it has to match what you are drawing. Hang in there! This is a bit strange at first, but read along, and you will hopefully understand why this is useful.

The Process

Everyone in the team should have a writing tool, and ideally, they all share a surface/paper to write upon. When they start discussing the topic, the topic presenter starts by drawing a simple (stick-figures work perfectly) sketch of the problem that the team are discussing. This sketch lays the foundation for the discussion afterwards. The team members can now join in, putting down lines between parts of the idea, pointing arrows into adherent ideas or topics, drawing sketches of different thing representing the comments they made, and so on.

The reason for doing this, is to activate multiple senses, and therefore gain an even better, and more precise, understanding of the topic that you are discussing. A few quick researched factors that support this method:

  • We know from research that taking notes helps the retention of memory, and even more so it aids the notetaker to gain a better understanding of the topic.
  • We know from research that notes are best taken as a combination of words and pictures – basically saying that you have to draw your notes as well.
  • When we activate multiple senses, we engage deeper into a learning situation. With this method we engage with sight, hearing, motor-senses, physical feeling as well as the thought processes and feelings required to conjure up words and pictures to describe complex problems – and then putting them on paper.

Let us even further bring light to the process by using an example:

An Overwatch team is seeking sponsorship to ensure their continued participation in international competitions. Before they start calling companies and investors, they need to align their knowledge of their current situation. They also need to analyze in which direction they are heading, and their goals.

They start of their meeting by the team member currently in charge of the sponsorship deal, presenting how their situation pans out right now. He does so by mentioning all the companies that helps them right now, and what they do in return. After just a few moments, most of the team members are baffled and have lost overview over all the agreements and decisions that have already been made.

The frustration of the sponsor-responsible team member us growing, as the team keeps asking over and over again about what exactly was the part of some of the sponsorships. In desperation to make it clear, he brings out an old whiteboard, and start writing up all the sponsor names. He soon realizes why the team might be a bit confused, as he now sees how many agreements they are already upholding.

Soon the other team members join with him on the whiteboard, writing notes to each of the sponsorships, until they have a complete overview. Now the discussion changes course, and the focus lands on the future. All of the sudden they have run out of space on the whiteboard, and they get some printer paper and continues the process with the whiteboard as an overview of former agreements and the A4’s as plans for the future.

Soon they have an entire desk covered in A4’s describing their ideas, and linking their current situation to the future they need to move towards to be able to compete worldwide. But most importantly, they all share the same knowledge now, and it has been made visible what parts of their knowledge they need to expand upon.

This example is employed to show how graphical facilitation can help guide common understanding and future development. For decades psychologist and other therapists have been using graphical tools with their clients, to further their common understanding of the problem ahead. A rising number of businesses are sending their employees on courses to enhance their graphical – and facilitating skills, for one simple reason: it works.

The strengths of this method are that it brings out details in mutual understanding that can be very hard to reach by pure oral communication. It plays on some of the most basic human functions and especially uses the natural tendency to imagine ideas and concepts as visual representations. It builds from solid research and is used by a multitude of professionals from across the world of business and even sports.

The weakness of this process is how hard it can be to practice the tools, and continuously apply it. It is no secret that a great many of us are not talented artists. This often means that many people are very self-aware when they start drawing. Often, they stop using the tool because of this, which is quite a shame as it holds a big potential once you move beyond your own limitations. A good team culture can help support this.  

This tool can be used pretty much however a team chooses. It can be quite hard to use if the subject at hand is extremely complicated, but it often helps to try it out – as Einstein once said “If you cannot explain a concept simply, you do not understand it well enough”. The same applies to graphical facilitation. If you cannot draw it, you properly do not understand it well enough. It is the perfect tool to use to present new ideas and help the team understand the idea in the same way that you do yourself. Check out how Simon Sinek uses it in this TED talk.

How does this matter beyond eSports?

A concern that will arise for most players in eSports teams at some point, is the fact that most eSport careers will not last an entire life-time. Whatever the reason for a career to end, it is of great importance that the players learn to utilize the skills and knowledge they have gained from playing a game at the top level. One these skills will be their ability in the world of team-development.

As is the case with many former professional sports athletes, many eSports athletes will most likely take on consulting or creative development following the end of their career. No matter if it the work they end up doing revolves around consulting younger athletes or even consulting managements of eSports team, they will need to have a sound understanding of how good communication is achieved.

Becoming aware of, and good at, the process of communication will transcend from the game into a new professional development. The open mindedness that is needed to apply and train these concepts of process will be strong tools in the athletes further development as well.

Below some factors gained from working like this are described:

  • Analysis and understanding of the level of mutual understanding of a subject, within a team
  • Creative development of new and old ideas
  • Expertise in “out-of-the-box” thinking
  • The ability to push some boundaries and maintain others
  • The skills needed to bolster team coherence
  • The ability to understand and develop complex subjects of interest

The take away message from this e-booklet could be to understand how we must become aware of the process level of communication in order to create and maintain top level performing eSports teams. Furthermore we can expect that a great deal of the skills in teamwork that an eSports athlete gains, can be a great addition to their CV’s in future professional development.