What Dungeons and Dragons Teaches us about Effective Work Teams

Dungeons and Dragons: Developing Strong Work Teams

Although the Mentor Works team is dedicated to helping our clients receive government funding, we do have some hobbies outside of work. This includes traditional hobbies like cooking, reading, sports, and gardening, as well as more eccentric hobbies. Over the past year, some Mentor Works team members have been playing dungeons and dragons together. Not only has this given us an opportunity to get together and have fun outside of work hours, but it’s also strengthened our personal and professional relationships.

Dungeons and Dragons was originally developed in 1974 and is often considered to be the best role-playing-game of all time. It provides open-ended adventuring fun, but also offers some insights that can be applied to other areas of life.

In this article, I’ll explain some of the ways business leaders could benefit from playing more Dungeons and Dragons. In particular, let’s look at how it can be used to build highly-effective teams and how this concept can be applied towards your organization.

Build a Team with Well-Balanced Attributes

In Dungeons and Dragons, players create characters by ranking the importance of core attributes, including:

  • Strength: Raw physical power;
  • Constitution: Health and stamina;
  • Dexterity: Hand-eye coordination agility, reflexes, and balance;
  • Intelligence: Learning and reasoning;
  • Wisdom: Willpower, common-sense, perception, and intuition; and
  • Charisma: Force of personality, persuasiveness, ability to lead.

When these attributes are ranked differently, different types of characters are created and can be used to play the game with. This system can even be seen in the real world, where people with different characteristics and skillsets become their own ‘character’ and fit certain roles better than others. For instance:

  • Political Leader: Charisma and Intelligence
  • R&D Scientist: Intelligence
  • Civil Engineer: Wisdom
  • Professional Athlete: Strength, Constitution and Dexterity
  • Tradesperson: Dexterity and Intelligence

Understanding that everyone has different attributes, ranked in a different order, is key to maximizing the effectiveness of a work team member. It should be the objective of a business leader to place team members in the optimal role to match their unique skillsets.

Importance of Team Roles for Businesses

In Dungeons and Dragons, just like in a workplace, team coordination is a key to success. Without a well-balanced team, and defined roles being assigned to each team member, organizational objectives become very difficult to achieve.

Human Resources Management literature on the importance of team roles in a business environment is well established; www.skillsyouneed.com lists the following key team roles often present in successful work teams:

  • Shaper: A dynamic, outgoing member of the team; they are often argumentative, provocative and impatient.
  • Implementer: Implementers can transform discussions and ideas into practical activities.
  • Completionist: A task-orientated member of the group; as their name implies, they like to complete tasks.
  • Coordinator/Chairperson: A calm, positive and charismatic member of the team.
  • Team Worker: Helps by giving support and encouragement to the other members of the team.
  • Resource Investigator: A strong communicator, good at negotiating with people outside the team, and gathering external information/resources.
  • Plant: An intellectual/individualistic member of the team.
  • Monitor Evaluator: Unlikely to get aroused in group discussions; they tend to be clever and unemotional, often detected from other members of the team.
  • Specialist: Has expert knowledge in some areas vital to the success of the group.

Dr. Raymond Belbin, founder of Management Consultation firm Belbin Associates, and creator of this team roles framework, found in his research that:

“The difference between team failure and success depends on the behavior of team members… Recognizing various team roles allows a small-business owner or the human resource manager in a large company to match job requirements with the appropriate employee skills [creating balanced teams].”

In an article outlining Dr. Belbin’s framework or team roles, it’s concluded that unbalanced work teams may not have enough capacity to propose creative solutions to problems. Furthermore, a June 2011 Harvard Business Review blog by professor Linda A. Hill and co-author Kent Lineback suggests that collective work, mutual commitment, cooperation, and coordination “allow teams to succeed.”

Team Roles Represented in Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons has a strong focus on team dynamics, and having a well-balanced adventuring team is important for simple survival, as well as solving mysteries and developing creating solutions to various problems (analogous to achievement of organizational objectives). Belbin’s role framework can be easily applied to Dungeons and Dragons as well, considering how well this game reflects the classic team role literature, with some examples including:

  • Completionist – Barbarian: They have one job to do, and they do it well; bringing a swift end to a fight.
  • Coordinator/Chairperson – Bard: Works to encourage and support other team members with support spells and an encouraging song to maximize team efficiency.
  • Team Worker – Cleric: Their focus is on casting spells which elevate their teammates’ performance.
  • Resource Investigator – Noble: The team member turned to when a high-stakes negotiation is taking place. They have high charisma and persuasion skill ratings, and can gather the support of other characters through their powers of influence.
  • Plant – Mage: The group’s resident wizard. They have a lot of specialized knowledge and skills which other team members couldn’t dream of; however, they may also have trouble relating with the rest of the team, who are largely non-magic-users.
  • Specialist – Healer: Without the expert healing knowledge provided by this team member, the rest of the team wouldn’t live long enough to be able to achieve their objective.

Dungeons and Dragons for Team Coordination

After playing many sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with co-workers and friends over the past year, I’ve realized that the game provides a simulation of work teams. It accurately reflects the level of coordination required for real-world success.

Adventuring teams share the same real-world constraint of work teams; the team must function optimally, regardless of what types of personalities are present.  Adventurers, like work team members in the real world, must adapt to dynamic situations, and work cooperatively to achieve the team’s/organization’s key objectives.

If you are looking for a dynamic, teachable team-building exercise, why not slay a dragon? Your team may learn how to better work together to achieve key objectives through the process.

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