Dungeon Master Skills You Can Bring to Work #4 – Communication

Dungeons & Dragons is a game that is almost entirely based in oral storytelling. From my players explaining what they want to do in a battle to my role as the Dungeon Master (DM) describing the nefarious villain, words are the foundation of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. That’s why communication is key. We need to clearly communicate our goals, actions, and perspectives in order to run a successful game.

Of course, this also applies to running a successful project.

Something that I have found in both work and in games is that what you communicate is just as important as how you’re communicating it. Here are the best tips I have for determining how to share information with your players and teammates.

Give People All the Information They Need

During a D&D game that’s happening in our imaginations, I have to make sure that I’m giving my players all the information they need to succeed. Telling them they are in a room is fine. But adding in the detail of a suspicious-looking crack in the wall that would break with a well-placed punch adds more interest and investment. Saying the enemy is big doesn’t help them nearly as much as telling them the enemy is big and made of fire.

Similarly, a team working on a project can only make the best decisions based on the information they have. If your team knows that the client wants three large features implemented by the end of the quarter, your teammates might suggest adding an additional developer. But they might make a very different decision if you were to let them know that the project’s budget doesn’t even cover the current number of developers on the team through that deadline.

A good check to make when you have a friend or a teammate whose priorities don’t align with yours is to ask yourself what information you have that that person doesn’t. Then consider what they might know that you don’t, and ask them. Opening yourself up to sharing information is a good way to ensure that everyone agrees on a more soundly-based plan.

Don’t Overload People with Unneeded Info

Sometimes, you might be tempted to share more information than the situation requires. Be sure to keep a balanced approach to sharing information and keeping certain details private. For example, during a D&D game, a player will make a low Perception check while investigating a door. This means their character is very unaware of their surroundings, so I would not tell the player anything about a trap hanging over the door. This is an act of managing the amount of information my players need.

Have you ever attended a morning standup for your project that seemed to go on forever, where every team member gives details on their work that you don’t really need to know? Standups are an incredibly valuable tool, but only as long as you keep yourself in check and tell your teammates only what they need to know.

Don’t bog down your team with details that don’t help them make better decisions on their work or increase their overall understanding of context. People can only keep track of so much information at a time. Knowing what information to share—and recognizing when it’s okay not to know something—is a crucial part of working on any successful team.

Most Importantly, Take Notes

I’m absolutely serious. Take notes. You can only share information that you remember. When I’m running a game, I always take notes. They’re just quick sentences about what players did, who they met, and any future plans they made. A great benefit of these notes is that I’m able to summarize them for the group at the start of our next game. This refreshes my team’s memory of the last time we got together and ensures that we’re all on the same page.

Similarly, a quick notes-based summary of the state of a project at the start of a meeting can be a great focusing tactic to make sure that everyone in attendance is working with the same information.

Just as important as taking notes is reviewing your notes. Determine what information from your notes is worth bringing up again. During one game session, my players were exploring an old, abandoned tower with wooden floors and creaky stairs leading up between levels. At one point, two players stood too close together, and the rotted floorboards gave way beneath their feet. Both of them went crashing down to the lower level. My players–rightfully–demanded to know why that had happened without any warning.

I realized that, though I had described the floors as creaky when they entered the tower, that had been over a week ago. Since that time, my players had forgotten that detail, and I had not recorded it in my notes. Even though I gave a recap of the previous game at the start of the current one, I hadn’t thought that detail was important. I didn’t remind my players about the creaky floors, and because of this, they crashed right through them.

Final Thoughts

Always remember that your team is only as successful as the information they’re given. Give your team the space to communicate, but do your best to avoid sharing more information than they need. Communication strategies are important, but knowing what to communicate is absolutely key to driving a successful project to completion, whether that project is a new product or exploring the depths of a dungeon.

Come back next week Sunday for the next post in the series:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Deliberation
  3. Preparation
  4. Communication
  5. Teamwork
  6. Adaptation