Game environments make a broad array of information, conveniently organized on data-rich dashboards, immediately visible not just to leaders but to the entire team. The information includes detailed statistics on individual and group performance, real-time status reports on operations, and relevant facts about players’ capabilities and performance histories. All of these make leading easier.
Real-time updates about a team’s mission help a leader choose a strategy in the heat of the action. Data about individual players allow a leader to quickly locate guild members who can bring needed skills and weapons to a raid and then to assign them to suitable roles. As we noted when discussing incentives, transparent and quantitative score keeping, which governs the distribution of rewards and the assignment of roles, encourages players to see the system as fair and to buy in to a leader’s goals. In fact, most games are indeed meritocracies: The chances of getting preferential treatment simply because you’re a friend of the boss are relatively low.
Dashboards, or cockpits, display both status and communications functions on the same densely populated user interface and often on a single computer screen, eliminating the need to open and close different software applications. Constantly visible during play, the cockpits allow a leader to stay within the narrative of the game while acquiring necessary information about players and communicating instructions to the group. Unlike a corporate dashboard that is located on a handful of computers at headquarters, with access limited to the senior executive team, these personal, view-as-you-go game cockpits give people in the field access to information as soon as it is available. That, in turn, allows game players to act on it without waiting for instructions from a guild leader. What’s more, the information allows players to assume impromptu leadership roles as needed. In many of our video clips, we see three or four people barking orders to team members during a raid, briefly taking the lead in the improvisational style of a jazz ensemble.
Most real-world companies are already working on capturing and integrating real-time information about people, activities, and results. Certainly, the concept of an überdashboard that would synthesize and display all current company metrics is something CEOs have long sought, although fitting them all on one screen might be difficult. A more relevant issue is whether leaders might benefit from relinquishing control of some of that information, in order to provide employees with better tools for making their own decisions and to spur group insights that would never occur to a single leader.
The kind of game information that may be particularly applicable to business is the detailed data about players. Unlike a relatively static employee file, which provides a snapshot of someone’s past experience and training, player data are constantly and automatically updated. They thus provide a kind of streaming video of a player’s résumé, including information about what he or she is like right now. This approach to employee information could transform how managers and their subordinates collaborate. An employee’s profile could include a wide variety of voluntarily provided information about the person’s informal skills and personal passions, all of which could be put in a searchable database. Someone looking for a sales manager in Thailand might unearth a worker with, say, a Thai spouse (whose local knowledge could help the manager be more effective there) or a longtime dream of living in Thailand (which could enliven a person’s work assignment).
But even this tool would lack the dynamism of a gamer’s constantly changing profile. Envision, for instance, a system in which all kinds of actions and interactions are, with the employee’s permission, automatically tagged and fed into a personal “tag cloud”—a visual schematic of the employee’s contacts with people, activities, and ideas. To a leader who is assembling a team in an evolving business environment, such a real-time, composite view of a person is likely to be more relevant than formal certification of an employee’s mastery of rigidly defined and probably outdated skill sets.
Excerpted from the original piece by Byron Reeves, Thomas Malone and Tony O'Driscoll entitled "Leadership's Online Labs", which appeared in the May 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review.