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Notice on the team structure diagram that in addition to the vertical lines of hierarchy, there are also horizontal lines of communication connecting the different groups. This is to illustrate that all of the groups interact with each other laterally, as well as reporting to the producer. This doesn't mean that the production has no hierarchy; it is the job of the producer and the leads from each department to make decisions about the big picture vision for the project and the day-to-day tasks each group should be working on.
There is also one communication line on the diagram between the producer's lines for the developer and the publisher. This line is important because it signifies that one person from each team is responsible for communications between these two groups. Veteran developers know that it's important to have a single person on the publisher side that's empowered to approve their work and authorize payments. It would be problematic if team members from each side were making decisions without having the producers involved to maintain consistency.
Imagine if someone from marketing on the publisher's team requested creative changes directly from the art director without involving the producer. An art change may cause a ripple effect in the animation production or programming, or it might mean that the QA engineers will have to re-test an area of the code. The schedule might have to shift because of this request, which could wind up costing the developer not only time, but money. If this happens enough times, the developer may find themselves out of business-simply because the team was trying to be responsive to the publisher's requests. What happened? There was a breakdown in communication that could have been avoided if proper channels were respected.
The same goes for communication within the development team. As we mentioned, if you need to work with the database programmer, or make changes to part of the interface, go to the technical director or the art director to make your request, not to the person directly responsible for that change.
The following simple courtesies can help maintain respect and communication within your team and avoid numerous misunderstandings:
Respect the chain of command.
Understand the resource needs, time requirements, and cost implications for requests that you make.
Be open to the requests of others.
Communicate decisions and changes to the design both up and down the ladder.
Don't engage in turf warfare or cliquishness.
Meetings are the best way of getting your team members to communicate. But conducting effective meetings is not as simple as gathering your coworkers together in a conference room and beginning a conversation. You need to structure the meeting so that it produces the desired results.
If you are calling the meeting, you will need to set the agenda. The best meetings are ones for which there is a definite goal, everyone knows the goal ahead of time so that they can come prepared, and by the resolution of the meeting the goal has been accomplished. If you don't have a clear agenda in mind, you are likely to waste everyone's time and accomplish very little in your meeting.
If you are asked to participate in a meeting, you will need to come prepared. Find out the agenda and goal and make sure you have all the material you will need in order to contribute. This may mean doing some research for a brainstorming meeting, or evaluating your workload for a status meeting. If you don't come prepared to a meeting, you will also be wasting other team members' time and have very little to contribute.
At the meeting, the person who called it will most likely function as the discussion leader. This person may designate other individuals to run certain parts of the meeting, but it's still up to the discussion leader to keep the meeting on track and moving toward the goal.
As in our rules for brainstorming, many of the rules of meetings involve personal and social skills. No one should be left out of the conversation intentionally, and those who speak should be able to do so without being criticized. No personal attacks should be permitted. If anyone makes a personal remark, they should be warned, and if it continues, they should be asked to leave the meeting. Make it clear that differences of opinion are helpful in sorting out the problem, and allow people to approach the same topic from multiple angles.
As the meeting draws to a close, you should make sure to review the decisions that have been made and any action items that have been assigned to the team. If the discussion requires a follow-up meeting, determine when it will be and make sure that everyone will have time to prepare for that follow-up. And last, if you have called the meeting, you should always send out notes and reminders of the decisions and assignments to the participants and to any key team members who were unable to attend.
Another great way to get your team to communicate is by playing games together. Everyone on your team probably loves games if they are in this business, so why not use that common interest as a way to forge stronger relationships between the various groups.
When choosing a game, try to pick one where players have the opportunity to work cooperatively or to express themselves. Multiplayer online games, boardgames, or sports work great for this. Games you make yourselves or games that are personalized for your team can also be a great way to get people talking. Whether it is a company softball league or weekly poker game, playing together can work wonders in building morale, enhancing communication, and fostering a feeling of connectedness.
Don't limit yourself to one type of game; try new games each week. Having a designated game night is a great way of bonding. Each week a different team member can bring in a favorite game, or a new game they are dying to try. In this way, your team will learn more about each other and have the chance to play games they otherwise might have missed.
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