Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Raid Teams Fail

In early 2008, I read a book on team management. Shortly after reading the book, I imposed a number of changes to our rules, which would go on to form the foundation for a restructure of the guild. It is my belief that those changes paved the way for our defeat of Archimonde, which is detailed in this blog postFor your enjoyment, here is the refined forum post I made, months after Archimonde's defeat, at the start of Wrath of the Lich King. It is, in essence, the World of Warcraft raider's interpretation of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.


Raid teams, like any group of individuals working together as part of a business organization or sports team, can be prone to dysfunction. This dysfunction typically manifests in five ways, each one acting as a catalyst for the next. They are:
  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results
What follows is a description of each, along with examples. As well, I provide a number of solutions for each, as you attempt to solve those problems with your own raiders. Dysfunction begins with trust...or lack thereof.

Absence of Trust

Trust is a fundamental part of what makes people work well together. When players in a raid do not trust one another, it leads to issues:
  • They are unable to admit their own mistakes, and prefer hiding them in anonymity
  • They rarely ask for help from others regarding their class and play
  • They typically do not offer assistance outside their own area of expertise
  • They are quick to jump to conclusions when considering why other raiders are making certain decisions, without asking for clarification
  • They hold grudges
  • Eventually, they avoid signing up for raids
In order for a team to function correctly, and increase the level of trust between raid members, players need to consider:
  • Admitting to mistakes and their own shortcomings, without fear of alienation or rejection
  • Ask for help
  • Openly accept suggestions/recommendations on how they can improve
  • Give fellow raiders the benefit of the doubt before arriving at some predetermined negative outcome (ie. "He died in the fire because he always dies in the fire--he's a shitty player"...when in fact, the player in question just received news about an ill family member)
  • Take risks in offering feedback to others
  • Appreciate the value of other raiders' expertise, and take advantage of their knowledge
  • Focus effort into valid issues (ie. "How can we better optimize moving ghouls from spawn to off-tank in Phase 1?"), not into wasteful politics (ie. "All of our attempts are going to fail because we have two Paladin tanks, and we have to have at least one Druid tank!")
  • Offer/accept apologies without hesitation (this relates DIRECTLY to the first point)
  • Look forward to future raids in which to implement the points above
In short, foster an environment where players are encouraged to speak, ask for help, and admit mistakes without being publicly humiliated...a task best started with YOU. Don't judge (unless you're a Paladin), and keep people focused on growth, improvement, and what better progress will be made when you return to the raid next week.

Fear of Conflict

When a team has an absence of trust, they become fearful of producing any sort of conflict. Conflict is not always a bad thing; it is normal in most relationships and organizations, and is a healthy part of an engaged team environment. It opens up the channels of communication, and gets members passionate about what they believe to be important. In raids, conflict often manifests as a result of failing to kill a boss. A raid that avoids conflict usually looks like this:
  • Completely quiet in vent. Often dull/boring
  • Play environment encourages politics and personal attacks (ie. Vent remains quiet, while /officer chat lights up, blaming a bunch of individuals for a particular wipe)
  • Controversial topics critical to raid success are avoided (ie. Continuing to support/enforce/rotate in a failing Tank that is key to the success of the raid, rather than speaking up)
  • Other members of the raid are not considered for their opinions, many of which may be valid, but are suppressed due to the first dysfunction - Lack of Trust
  • Wasted time pouring energy into defending one's own position rather than tackling the real issue at hand (ie. "Well, I healed through that Unchained Magic because the damage is trivial and I can control it" - instead of - "We all need to be actively watching Unchained Magic and holding our casts to the best of our ability")
In order to allow conflict to become a healthy part of a raid team, players must:
  • Have interesting, lively raids, where people communicate openly and easily. This is one of the reasons why we've never enforced a "raid-vent-silence" channel, where only one person speaks.
  • All raiders' ideas/opinions ought to be polled on strategic solution, regardless of how significant their perceived contribution may be. This is why the Raid Leader works with the Role Officers in order to resolve boss failures, rather than do it all himself. In many cases, individual Raiders also contribute to strategy resolution.
  • Keep politics to a bare minimum
  • Attack the most important issues first, and solve them quickly
Conflict is not to be swept under the rug; it's vital to every well-rounded team. Raiders are no different. Keep communication flowing, but be firm and educate your players when the appropriate time to speak is (you're not cracking jokes while listening to raid calls; save the chit-chat for trash clears). When a raid wipes, get to the heart of it. Speak up about what you've observed, but don't be negative, just objective. Be respectful. And if you call someone out, make an effort to bring a solution along with you, not just the problem. Scrubs complain. Expert team members solve.

Lack of Commitment

Once a team is resigned to avoiding conflict, the decisions they make permeate into a behavior that lacks any sort of commitment to the raid at hand. Commitment is an absolute requirement of raid success, no questions asked. The raid leader gives an instruction on a particular boss, and when you decide for whatever reason that you don't feel the need to meet that expectation, you are setting up the entire team to fail. A raid without commitment:
  • Causes raid members to be ambiguous about what they are responsible for (ie. ", I'm not really certain about what I need to do when I get marked for an ice-block during Sindy, so...I guess I hope I don't get marked!!")
  • Loses opportunities to improve/solve a problem while issues are over-analyzed and unreasonable delays occur
  • Encourages raiders to stay quiet, and not admit when they make mistakes, thus delaying the resolution for future attempts, as well as eat away at the player's own confidence of being able to execute at all.
  • Constantly goes over the same issues. Again. And Again. And Again. And Again.
  • Causes raid members to second-guess one another (ie. "Oh great, we have so-and-so in the raid again, goes any hope of completing the heroic achievement on Sindy!")
In order to combat the lack of commitment, a raid team must:
  • Create clear and concise expectations of raiders. This is why we have role officers, and why they are in place to create healing assignments, which side of Valithria the melee needs to be on, which foot melee needs to be on for Festergut, etc.
  • Focus the team on the common goal (kill the boss!)
  • Develop the ability to learn from mistakes: Acknowledge it. Ask for/receive clarification (without prejudice). Make the change. Problem solved.
  • Take advantage of opportunities before other guilds do. (read: Opportunities, not EXPLOITS)
  • Move forward on decided-upon strategy, without hesitation (ie. "Well, we've done Strat A on Heroic Lich King for two weeks, and now the Raid Leader changes it to Strat B...he must have a good reason, so I'll make these changes on my end as well")
  • Adapt and/or change strategy as needed, without hesitation or guilt. As much as we can avoid, we typically do not change strategies on a boss mid-raid, but sometimes it is necessary (and typically the RL makes the right call on this)...and when it happens, EVERYONE needs to be on board.
Be committed to the end result. Narrow your focus on the goal (but don't play with blinders on and die in the fire!) If you make a mistake, don't be silent...ask for clarification, make it crystal clear in your mind. And if you have opportunities to gain insight, whether it be researching strategies on the web, watching videos, or reaching out to fellow raid guilds -- don't turn your back on these options. Take every legitimate opportunity you can to make the end goal reachable.

Avoidance of Accountability

A team that fails to commit produces a bunch of wishy-washy, less-than-adequate players who take no responsibility for their own actions; they avoid accountability. Raid teams that avoid accountability:
  • Produce resentment among raiders who have different standards of play
  • Encourage people to play at a level we can only consider 'mediocre'
  • Allow players to miss raids without consequence
  • Place an unhealthy amount of stress and burden on the raid leader as the sole source of rule enforcement
If you want to build and enforce more accountable players in raids:
  • Ensure poor performers have incentive to improve. This is why we have the guild rank/reward structured as we do. Mini-goals are achieved based on performance, and rewards are then showered on the player to celebrate the accomplishment.
  • Identify problems quickly by openly questioning other members' approach without hesitation (ie. "So-and-so, I see you are still casting while you have Unstable Magic, what's going on there? I thought the deal was to stop casting...")
  • Establish acknowledgement/respect for raid members who are held to the same high standards (relates to the guild ranks listed above), thereby validating the effort of those players who are truly committed
  • Delegate the handling of individual groups' expectations, which are clearly defined and explicit (ie. Our role officers handle each subsequent group in healing, melee, and ranged DPS. A healing officer, therefore, can be expected to state: "Healing assignments are posted - if you fail to heal these people, you are removed from the raid - Questions? /w RL, the healers are ready...").
Players that demonstrate accountability are truly a sight to behold in action. They jell with extreme efficiency, communicate clearly, and see the success of the entire team as it is their own personal responsibility. This builds a healthy balance between raid leader and raiders, and provides incentive for players to improve, grow, and eventually gain rank and status within the guild. In turn, this will cause your raid team to gain status on the server (or perhaps beyond).

Inattention to Results

A raid full of players that couldn't care less about what they do is a sorry sight to see. Their individual poor performances lead to consistent raid wipes for a multitude of reasons...many of which are easily identifiable and solvable. But nobody cares about solving them. Their attention is elsewhere--whatever is on TV, what the current score is during the Football game. It's sad and pathetic to watch, and painful to be a part of. Raids that don't care about their success or failure:
  • Fail. Period. They do not improve, nor care to.
  • Are beaten by other guilds in progression.
  • Cause the very best raiders in the guild to begin looking elsewhere for a guild
  • Encourage individual raiders to focus on themselves instead of the team/guild as a whole.
  • Are easily distracted--(ie. cracking jokes and spamming ASCII-art macros in General Chat while inside a raid).
When raid teams care about what they do in a raid, and make an effort to examine the finer details of raid strategy, they:
  • Retain the best and brightest players
  • Minimize individualistic behavior (ie. "The healing assignment went out, and I'm assigned to heal X, but I'd rather inflate my numbers on, so I'm going to do XYZ instead!")
  • Are able to enjoy both success and failure, because they fully understand that each is needed, and leads to growth
  • Benefit from team members' skills whose personal focus shifts to the success of the team (ie. "Wow, if it wasn't for that one DK who Chains/Gripped that Blood Beast, I'd have been killed for sure. His DPS went down a bit, but...well...we killed Saurfang!")
  • Avoid Distractions (ie. I can only imagine how many wipes we have avoided by not being in General Chat and missing some crude/stupid joke or macro that catches the attention of a key tank or healer, causing the entire raid to die).
There it is. Start repairing your raid team by building the foundation of trust, encouraging conflict, driving commitment, enforcing players to be accountable and ultimately driving the quality of what they do onward and upward. If you succeed at applying these rules, I guarantee that you will kill raid bosses with great efficiency, because you will have a great team.


Hasteur said...

You would be referring to "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable"

I recognized it based on the principles. It's a wonderful parable and I highly reccomend it for anybody who works as a team

Shawn Holmes said...


Correct! I refer to this exact book in some of the memoir posts surrounding this one. It definitely helped paved the way to gaining my own independence as a leader.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this.

While I found myself lost in your memoirs, do to experiencing many of the frustrations, and emotional reactions you have described.

This piece by far is what I needed most at this point in time in my search to improve my (our) guild.

Divine Crusade
US - Vek'nilash

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks very much for the feedback, and I'm glad to hear this post helped give you some direction with your own guild's struggles.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good explanation of what it takes to be a functional raid team. My question is, what do you do with raiders who are clearly not cut out to raid? The ones who fail over and over and just don't care. Any good way to 'fire' the raider without ensuing drama?

Shawn Holmes said...


You have to cut them, after giving them a reasonable amount of time to improve. Set the expectations with them up front (ie. "You have two raids left to improve.") and give them the tools necessary to improve. If they don''s tough, but you have to cut them.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.