Over the course of 20 years I have been a part of several great teams. But the time spent on these teams has accounted for less than 10% of it all. Being a part of a great team was an amazing experience. On such a team, we couldn't spend enough time working on the game or thinking about it when we were away. We were completely absorbed. We all shared a common vision and produced something fantastic and successful. Our passion and productivity made it more than just "work" and it was always a sad occasion when a game shipped and we were all "reallocated" to different projects. We knew something special was going away. I've always sought ways to return to this state of being part of a great team or finding ways to help them exist.
Making great games, being highly productive and absorbed in the enjoyment of it all. Isn't this how we want to be making games? Isn't this the environment that every studio should focus on creating?
What prevents great teams from existing?
- Goals we don't believe in.
- Lack of visibility or ownership in what we do.
- We don't feel like we are a part of something great or adding much of value.
- Working with groups of people that are not really "teams".
- A bad physical environment.
- Spending a great deal of time doing "other stuff" that don't add directly to the value of the game.
Great teams are not about "methodology" or "process". Some of the great teams I've been on were in waterfall environments. However, methodology can work against great teams. For example, overzealous "resource management" can prevent them from forming long enough to be great.
It's not about culture either. I've seen these teams form in some of the most dysfunctional cultures you could imagine. Culture can also support or work against great teams, but it doesn't determine them.
Great teams have more to do with the right place, the right time, the right people and surfing the edge of chaos. There are many books about great teams. I've read quite a few. They build on the list of things to help create fertile ground and to support them, but there is no science or method. Great teams are complex, like many things in nature. They are like flocks of birds that form amazing patterns, a perfect ocean swell to surf on, or the bumper crop of huge vegetables that grows from your garden every few years.
All of us who think about being part of great teams or try to find ways to allow more of them to form can't act like mechanics or scientists plugging in inputs. We have to think like gardeners. We do our bit to create the right conditions (trimming, weeding, fertilizing, watering, etc), but it's largely outside of our control that the garden will be great. We have far more control to do damage. It require subtle control to help. But full control? It's an illusion.
Nothing worthwhile is easy it seems, but that's what keeps things interesting!