In sports, there is always a coach, whether for a team or an individual. In the case of a sports team, the coach will make sure the members of the group are aligned and will perform at their best. The coach will turn the team into something more significant than the sum of its parts. We all know what to expect from those team coaches.
While sports team coaches are very well known, we seldom talk about a coach in our game development teams. Does this mean that there is no need for a coach in this context? Or maybe the role of a coach is being played by somebody on the team without us realizing it?
This article will try to analyze the role of coaching in a game development team to be able to answer the above question.
Whether we are talking about a sports coach, a business coach, an executive coach or a life coach, the simplest definition for a coach is: "A person who will help an individual or a group of people reach their goals." What is implicit here is that the coach will help the coachee reach the goal by "empowering" the coachee. Empowering is the keyword here. A coach is different from a mentor. The mentor is an expert in a domain that will focus on the techniques for learning. A coach is all about the big picture.
In the leadership material, a transformational leader's definition is very close to the definition of a coach.
The best coaches will move the team towards the goals by empowering the individuals. But would it be possible to reach the goals without strengthening the team members? It would be possible, yes. Shortcuts are sometimes available, but they are usually short term solutions. Sports team owners sometimes take alternatives to win the season, they make significant changes in the roster, raise media wars or various other strange activities. None of these activities would be something that a good coach would approve of; sometimes, these conflicts could lead to a coach getting fired. A shortcut decision example from the business world could be massive layoffs. It is important to note that coaching and the coach are always about the people, no shortcuts, aiming for sustainable long term solutions. They think about people first.
Let's consider a game development team and see if we can find the coach. The goal of such a group is usually making a high-quality video game in a specific genre and by considering various constraints such as platform, technical, or budget constraints. The coach will be the person to make sure that happens in the team. She would be the person to empower the team.
Let's go into the details to see how this empowerment can be done. Below are a few examples of what a game development coach can do for the team:
There are many decisions to be made by the game development team and tasks to be done throughout the entire development process. The main challenge for the optimum team is how to divide these decisions and responsibilities between the members. This problem becomes more challenging when you would also need to consider team member growth. A member might not be the best option for a task today, but she would need some opportunities for learning and growth. In other words, implicit in the challenge of structuring a team is the decisions related to individual development plans. The equivalent of this task for a sports team coach would be to assign playing positions to the members and plan for their development.
Setting up the team structure is not a one time task; it needs continuous daily monitoring and assessment. The coach needs to check with everyone daily. Some might prove to be better at some functions, and some might advance and learn, so work assignment needs to change continuously.
A coach knows better than anyone else that the team is made of human beings, and many non-technical aspects are related to the performance of human beings. Team members might not be at their peak performance levels for a multitude of reasons such as losing their motivation, not seeing the team vision, having issues with managers, or any personal problem. An ideal coach will spot such team member concerns and try to address them as much as possible.
As mentioned above, making sure there are proper development and learning plans for each team member is a very crucial task for the coach. Higher skills for a member will directly affect team performance, and higher morale for the member will indirectly affect the team.
A one on one meeting is one of the best ways for the coach to understand the members better and have them reflect on their situation. Trust will be the primary catalyst in such a meeting.
The main expectation for the game director is to define the creative vision for the game and make sure the project is moving towards it daily. Getting involved with the performance of the team members is not part of the duties of the director, although many might want to play the role of a coach.
The most important expectation from a video game producer is to be a project manager, meaning someone that can balance the game features, project budget, and time. The producer might cut some game features, try to find more budget or extend some dates. Making sure the individuals are empowered is not necessarily her concern. However, many producers may play the role of a coach.
Leads make sure their departments deliver what is required for the project in time and with the needed quality. They are usually experts in their domain. They can judge the quality, and they can delegate tasks. They are mentors for sure; however, coaching skills, while not necessarily expected from them, can help them lead their respective teams.
The CEO should make sure the company is following the vision, and all the operations are functioning. The operations range from production and development to finance and marketing. Those activities make dealing with individual company members a rather tricky job. Coaching skills can make any CEO a better one, no doubt.
We can conclude that the role of a coach has been divided and gets played by various members of a game development team at different times. The coach role will be like the foundation of a team, monitoring the group, and thinking about ways of empowering the team by converting the team members to their best versions. The more we consider this role consciously in our daily activities, the better results we should expect, especially in the long run.
Maybe it is about time to consider a dedicated coach role in our teams, forming a triad of leads. The director focuses on the quality of the product. The producer focuses on the way the project is progressing. The coach could focus on the actual people in the team and their progression, believing that the best teams make the best products.
Do you have a coach in your game development team?