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Guild Guide: A concept of distributed leadership

In which an alternative to the traditional structure of guilds is proposed as a possible way of handling leadership.

An accepted fact of online gaming is that leading a guild is a mess. It's a matter of herding cats as long as you possibly can, eventually burning out, and possibly shipping off to Tijuana and assuming a new identity under the name of Jorge. (If your name is already Jorge and you live in Tijuana, you move to Montana and assume the name of Cheryl.) And maybe part of the problem is that no one likes to take on leadership as a hobby.

I mean, I'm not sure, but it's possible that we could make running a guild less of an epic event that no one emerges from unscathed by changing how it's run? Maybe the problem is that the way we run guilds/clans/etc. is something that evolved organically, but it doesn't necessarily work in the longer term?

So today's installment is a wee bit different. Rather than my usual plot of "put out a problem and offer advice to deal with it," I'm going to propose a model of how guilds could be run that would put less pressure on the people at the top and make the guild a more cooperative effort all around. Will it work? I don't know. But it seems like the sort of thing that's worth trying out.

Or head to the Tijuana border ahead of time. I can't stop you.

No ruler, no master

First things first: under this structure, there are no officers. None whatsoever. There probably is a guild leader, but that's simply for the purposes of how most guild structures work in online games wherein you have to have someone at the head of things. It's not an office filled by someone with any purpose other than assigning ranks and making sure that everyone has privileges necessary in games where that's an issue.

Instead of officers, the members of the guild are divided into teams. These teams are formed organically by the group as a whole rather than (again) by any kind of officer or official leadership. If your guild forms with a plan of raiding in World of Warcraft, for example, you're going to need recruitment, resource gathering, strategic groups, and scheduling. Based on what a player is interested in doing and what the guild as a whole need, a new player is assigned to one of the groups. And that's their new job.

Jobs for all

Let's say this hypothetical guild I just described has a grand total of twenty members, with five members in each of the aforementioned groups. You are a part of the recruitment group. Your job - along with that of the other four people you're in the group with - is to find and evaluate new members and give them reasons to join up. And that's what you contribute to the guild as a whole.

Within each group, resolutions of problems are handled democratically. If the other four members of the group are doing all of the recruiting and you're looking up apartment rental prices in Tijuana, for example, you don't answer to an officer; you answer to the rest of your group. If one person in the group doesn't get along with you or has a deep issue with how you recruit people but everyone else likes you, then things balance out. The goal here is that you all want to be working together and acting as a team, not answering to someone else.

As a group, you all have the ability to recruit new people or kick them as the situation warrants. You do not, however, have the ability to handle resources in the guild bank, you don't have access to the guild calendar or the like, you aren't expected to come up with raid strategies. Your entire goal is to make sure that each individual subset that you work within is working up to snuff.

Communicating internally

Obviously, you're not going to be working as independent entities in all things; you're all part of the same guild, after all. The easiest way to make communication happen is with forums or the like offering weekly "status reports." Ideally, the responsibility for writing these things up rotates through the members in a group, so everyone has a turn to offer updates and keep everyone abreast of developments.

If a meeting is necessary - say that one member has become a major issue - each group delegates a small portion of its membership to form a new group to discuss the issue and offer viewpoints. This sort of "emergency council" has no power beyond discussing and deciding upon a solution for the given problem, and once it's done the sub-group disbands again. No additional powers exist, it's just a small temporary group to figure out how to handle an issue that would otherwise go up for officer discussion.

There are probably other fine details that I can't think of off the top of my head, but you get the general idea. In this model, no one holds power, or at least not an appreciable amount for any substantial length of time. Power is in the hands of the members, and it moves between members as different needs move to the forefront.

We fought not for glory, but because taking them to our leader was too complicated.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantage of this format seems fairly obvious at a glance - unlike most leadership models, you don't have to worry about officer burnout from an overwhelming amount of responsibility. Everyone takes charge to an equal degree. You might not want to be a recruitment officer on your own, but handling a fifth of a single recruitment officer's job doesn't feel too onerous.

There's also the sense that it tears down the idea of officers being an elite class of guild members separate from the rest of the guild. There are no officers. You don't get more privileges or abilities based upon your rank in the guild, you just wind up in a group where you can do the most good. I think that's a fair compromise and a good chance for players to start getting invested in the group they belong to.

Unfortunately, this also comes with the downside of requiring a group of people mature enough to work together and communicate without the need for outside intervention. Yes, that should always be a default when it comes to people interacting on the internet, but it frequently isn't, and in this case the consequences can become much more disastrous. When you have a corps of officers and a disruptive clique, you have people who can look at the issue and break things up.

Of course, it also dismantles the idea that a destructive clique can hold all power over the guild by being the officers, so perhaps there's something to that in the first place.

Ultimately, this involves trading stability for group coexistence. Whether or not it's going to work presumably depends almost entirely on how well you trust your fellow guild members and how reliable they prove to be in the long run. If the guild tends to be a bit flaky or you don't already know these people, it's going to be messy. But if it's ten of you forming a guild with clear roles and a vision for moving forward, maybe it's an opportunity to make sure that no one is the boss.

And heck, it can't hurt as an approach to giving officers less reason to burn out.

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Published Nov. 14th 2015

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