In my free time, I like to play Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends. It’s a fun way to keep in contact with friends who don’t live near me. It gives us a space to create our own adventures. It’s great for de-stressing, exercising our creative energies, and just having fun together.
But during a recent game session, I realized something that I hadn’t noticed before: While narrating a fight against goblin bandits, I was also building professional skills.
I act as the Dungeon Master, or DM, for my group, while my friends play individual characters. Working together as a party, they make decisions while I bring the world around them to life and respond to their actions within the game.
After a particularly contentious moment when one character nearly fatally injured another in order to get the final kill, I called a quick group meeting with all of my players to check in and see how everyone was doing. My players were able to discuss their frustrations with each other, call out their clashing play styles, and come up with a plan to make sure we could all enjoy the game more fully in the future.
I didn’t realize until later that I had just called an impromptu retrospective meeting, guiding my friends through the typical retro questions of what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we could do to improve in the future.
The realization that I was developing useful career skills through my DM experience got me wondering what other skills I’ve been honing without realizing it. Here’s the first in my series of Dungeon Master skills you can bring into your career as a consultant.
Remember that a Good Dungeon Is Inclusive
As Dungeon Master, I am in charge of our “table” of players. As the narrator of the story we collaborate to tell, my attention creates the storyline. Because of this, I have to actively work to make sure I give each of my players an equal part of the storyline.
This means listening when a player is talking, but also encouraging everyone else to quiet down so we can hear someone who hasn’t spoken up for a while. As you might expect, some players are more eager to talk loudly, and some tend to wait for a turn that, without my intervention, might never present itself.
Everyone Deserves a Voice
I’ve encountered this problem at the workplace, as well. In a large meeting, it’s common to have only a few people speak. It’s good to hear ideas from everyone, but it’s also hard to voice your own ideas when you’re sitting in that kind of meeting, especially if you doubt that you have the experience or authority to suggest one.
Here are a few Dungeon Master tricks I’ve picked up to help prompt inclusion from everyone.
1. Keep track of your players.
One good approach is to keep mental tabs on how long it’s been since each player has spoken in the discussion. Be sure to call attention to those who haven’t spoken in a while; give them a space to voice their thoughts and opinions.
One time, I had a player who didn’t speak up while the party was planning how to sneak into a noble’s mansion. She thought maybe they could try asking the noble first, without any sort of sneaking, but didn’t know if anyone else would want to do that. The rest of my players hadn’t even thought of that option and quickly decided to follow her plan. Because I made sure that this player had an opportunity to voice her idea, the whole party avoided an encounter with some enchanted guardian statues hidden in the noble’s garden.
2. Enforce a turn order.
A more strict approach that I’ve found incredibly useful in D&D combat encounters is enforcing a strict turn order. At the beginning of a battle, everyone rolls a die to determine their Initiative. Rolls with higher Initiative rank higher in the turn order. The battle starts with those who have the highest rolls, progressing down to the lowest. Once the person with the lowest Initiative has had a turn, you loop back to the top and run another round. This method ensures that each person has the space to make a move and participate in the action.
It would be interesting to use this tactic in a meeting. I can imagine discussing the project or particular problem in a turn-based order with one person (likely the Delivery Lead or Project Manager) acting as the mediator.
Whatever your approach is, inclusion is an incredibly important goal, both at the game table and in the workplace. The more space you can give a team to float ideas and discuss differing viewpoints, the more creative and productive they can be. And you should do your part to help everyone feel welcome and safe to voice their thoughts.
Everyone needs a seat at the table. Everyone deserves to be heard.
Come back next week Sunday for the next post in the series: