Why Organizational Design is Crucial for Self-Organizing Teams: Lessons from Multiplayer Video Games

Asher Black

In the world of business, self-organizing teams have become a buzzword that is thrown around quite often. However, the idea of autonomous teams that work together to achieve a common goal is not new. In fact, multiplayer video games have been doing this for years. In many games, there is no voice chat between players, and yet teams collaborate, improvise, adapt, and respond to opportunities seamlessly. This level of proactive collaboration is what businesses should aspire to achieve. But why doesn’t it happen in companies?

The answer is simple: organizational design. Most companies are not designed to have entrepreneurs or improvisation within. Instead, they have layers of command-and-control apparatus that ensure power is centralized at the top. While culture is supremely important and beats strategy every time, organizational structure defines the behavior of employees more than culture does.

This is a reprise of my favorite blog post by Steve Pruneau [see it here in all its stunning visual glory]

To understand the importance of organizational design, let’s compare jobs in a traditional company to true self-organizing teams in video games. In multi-player video games, non-verbal collaboration, self-organization, and adaptation happen in real-time as each player continuously makes individual decisions that maximize opportunities to win based on their own abilities, strengths of characters chosen by other team members, characters being used by the opposing team, and unique challenges in the game map.

Overwatch, a popular multiplayer video game, is an excellent example of how self-organizing teams can achieve extraordinary results without formal training or traditional corporate management directing players to join or take a training course to prepare. Each Overwatch match has two opposing teams of six players, and each player can select a character from 23 characters available, which allows for a dizzying range of possibilities in team composition. Some characters are more suited to the situation of a map than others, but all characters can be played in any map.

To succeed in Overwatch, players must work together, adapt to changing situations, and make quick decisions that maximize their chances of winning. The same can be said for self-organizing teams in companies. By designing an organizational structure that allows employees to make decisions relative to their roles rather than their reporting relationships, companies can create an environment that fosters entrepreneurship, improvisation, and collaboration.

In conclusion, the key to creating a successful self-organizing team is to focus on organizational design. By creating a structure that promotes autonomy, transparency, and a positive culture, businesses can empower their employees to think and act like owners or entrepreneurs. Lessons from multiplayer video games like Overwatch show that self-organizing teams are not only possible, but they can also achieve extraordinary results without traditional corporate management.

Asher Black

Asher Black

Asher Black is a co-founder of Free Agent Source and its Corporate Storyteller. As a consultant, his practice areas are Sales Effectiveness & Engagement, Education Program Implementation, Brand Story and Corporate Messaging. He often serves as a fractional leader, is a frequent public speaker, and media talent. He also lives in Brooklyn, plays guitar, writes fiction, and practices the martial arts.

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