This article was published on: 15/5/2011
“Leave your ego at the door” is a well used phrase and so it should be. I don’t think many would argue that ego is good, especially in a team environment. Yet all too often ego is allowed in through the studio doors. As the very thing that defines a person it’s hard to simply say to someone to leave ego behind. Ultimately then, the best way to get rid of it is to not allow it in the first place. An effective recruitment process is therefore crucial to building a good team, but it’s easy to become complacent, especially when teams ramp up fast. So here is my list as to exactly how destructive ego can be as an argument for being as diligent as possible with your recruitment.
- The problem with ego is that it can be quite deceptive – quite often people who have strong-armed a decision using bluster and belligerence are given the benefit of the doubt when it works out. Here’s the rub: with a talented team they’ll always find a way of making things work. Don’t let this cloud your judgement when looking at whether things could have been done better. Relief can hide a multitude of sins and ego can often be allowed to win again and again.
- Ego takes the focus away from the work – We’re social animals and it can be very easy to lose focus on our work and concern ourselves more with pecking order. A well established structure where everyone’s role is clear will leave less room for social ambiguity and more room for effective game development.
- Where there is ego there are irrelevant battles – I say ‘irrelevant battles’ because there are meaningful battles to be had on what matters, yep, the game. Ego battles become about who shouts hardest, longest and loudest. This creates what I like to call the black hole phenomenon where everything else in the room is sucked into a universe of meaningless bollocks. Ego is a big distraction away from what matters.
- Where there is ego there is time wasted – decisions in government are made slowly because politicians must also consider their positions on an issue and the political ramifications as well as (and often more than) the actual decision in hand. Game development mired with politics is doomed to failure, or at best, massive expense.
- Ego distorts effective decision making – if ego is the dominating force in your organisation the best politicians will rise to the top, but not necessarily the best decision makers. Ego tends to breed contempt if people don’t feel decisions are being made for the right reasons. I don’t need to tell you how destructive negativity then becomes.
- Pandering to ego leads to compromise – and it is inevitable that you’ll have to pander to ego if you don’t want constant battles and strife in the team. Compromise is more often than not the most socially cohesive resolution, but alas, not for bold innovative design. Compromise leads to mediocrity. If Johnny Big Tantrum is always throwing his toys out the pram every time things don’t go his way, then however talented he is, you have a big problem.
- Ego necessitates the need for damaging management mechanisms – even diligent management who recognise that large egos are having a distortive effect are between a rock and a hard place. They’re forced to react with methods to reset team balance. However over-management can be stifling in a creative environment. Especially if the perceived solution is more formalisation in an effort to get everyone’s voice heard.
With ego running rife in an organisation the final result is always the same; people problems masked by project problems. Before they notice the difference, or indeed are willing to admit to it, it’s far too late to do anything about it. I would hazard a guess that this (exacerbated by other factors) is the root cause of most failed projects and companies. So let’s do our best to stamp out ego wherever we see it rearing its head, good luck!