Dungeon Master Skills You Can Bring to Work #6 – Teamwork

Prestidigitation is a low-level spell in Dungeons & Dragons that allows the caster to perform a subset of minor effects, such as lighting a single candle or cleaning a square foot of a piece of clothing. It’s a spell that most magic-casting classes can learn, but it has few benefits in battle.

One of my players added it to their limited spell list a while ago, and it sparked an argument between her and another player. This other player said that she should add a more helpful spell, specifically an attack spell. But the original player asserted that her character wouldn’t want to know many attack spells, and prestidigitation is the perfect spell for her character’s backstory.

When I agreed that this was a reasonable explanation, the contrary player was quick to point out that of course I’d say that. I play as the monsters their party fights, so of course I’d want their spell-caster to have ineffective spells. That would make it easier for me to win in a fight.

This response caught me off guard. After all, we were all one team playing together to have fun. Right?

All on the Same Team

As the dungeon master (DM), I find myself in direct opposition with my players. They are all the heroes, and I am (for example) the group of magical cultists trying to stop them from saving the world. But the difference between myself and the angry player is that I work to keep a complete perspective of our group.

Yes, it’s frustrating when an effective attack interrupts my perfect plot for how the villain might win this battle. But it also means I did my job well and gave my players a surmountable challenge, and that they met it exceedingly well. We play together to have fun, and it’s only fun as long as we all remember we’re on the same team.

It’s also very easy to fall into this argumentative mindset on a project at work, especially if you’re working on a team that’s segmented or split up in some way. It’s easy to “other” people in that situation, and it’s much easier to view “others” through an antagonized lense:

  • Of course QA would get hung up on that specific little bug. They just can’t find anything else wrong with the code you’ve written, so they harp on these useless little details just to get on your nerves.
  • You know the other dev on the team saw your question and is just ignoring it, like he always does.

But just like the angry player in my story, blaming other members of your team doesn’t make things any better for anyone. Instead, try to keep your mindset broad. Remember that you’re all on the same team, working toward the same goal, whether that goal is a successful product launch, a satisfied client, or taking down a group of Hill Giants.

Play to Your Strengths

Another important point of being on a team is remembering that you all have different skillsets. Take advantage of that! If your first thought of playing to your strengths is something like, “I like coding, so I’m a developer,” you’re not entirely wrong. But you can think more broadly than that.

My players have characters with a variety of skills and abilities. We do have some basic assumptions like, “The barbarian will break down most doors, and the wizard will keep an eye out for magical items.” But there are other roles and responsibilities that have been allocated as we’ve played and the characters have developed. Our rogue is sneaky, but also incredibly charismatic, so he talks to merchants on the behalf of the party, angling to use his charm to get a better deal.

Your team, too, can benefit from taking advantage of any strengths you might have beyond the ones that fit your job description. Maybe you don’t have a delivery lead on your team, and one of your developers dreads getting details from the client, but another genuinely enjoys it. Coordinate with your team so that each person takes on the majority of work that they enjoy.

Keep Your Focus on the End Goal

A fun part of Dungeons & Dragons is that each player’s character can be complex and unique, filled with their own history, ideals, and motivations. Because of this, each character in a game has their own goals, hopes, and fears. However, players may also form together into a group because they share a goal and know that working together will help them achieve that goal. Often, this goal is something like plundering a dragon’s lair, or stopping an evil cult from taking over the kingdom. But it’s important for the players to remember that they all want that goal, even if they have their own individual goals, as well.

When you’re on a team, it can be easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to your individual goals. You want to finish this story. You want to score the next sale. Maybe you ignore the request from marketing for a summary of your project because you’d rather finish one last feature. In situations like these, it’s best to take a step back and think about your goals.

Ideally, your personal goals for a project will fall in line with the group’s goal. But that’s not always the case. If the one feature you’ve been dying to implement is determined to be out of scope, it may be cut. You can complain, argue, or even implement it anyway! Or you can step back and think about the project as a whole. Maybe that feature isn’t needed, at least not for this release. The product could improve with some extra time to work on other supporting development instead.

Final Thoughts

Teamwork is an important component on any project. You’re working to accomplish something bigger than any of you could manage alone. That’s a complex task. It’s important to remember that you’re all working toward that larger goal together. Play to your strengths, talk through whatever conflicts arise, and remember that you’re all on the same team.

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

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