Guest Post: Same Song, Second Chorus

[George “GeoFitz” Fitzgerald contacted me a few weeks ago with an idea for an article about micro-management and team leading. I loved what he sent me, so here’s Bearz Repeating’s first guest post! Take it away, GeoFitz! — Bearz]

George FitzgeraldSaratosa, Florida

George Fitzgerald
Saratosa, Florida

Several years ago, I wrote a review for “Adam,” a Level 2 who head judged a Pro Tour Qualifier that I was scorekeeping. Adam had received some pretty direct feedback about his leadership style after a previous PTQ and was taking steps to improve. The issue had been that he had two extremely experienced Level 2s as his team leads, but Adam micromanaged them. He was all over them about everything they were doing. The team leads snapped back a bit and gave him that feedback.

In the next event Adam head judged several months later, he swung the pendulum fully in the opposite direction. He took a completely hands-off approach and let his team leads run. The issue with this was that he did not have the same team leads! These were two completely different people with completely different skill sets and experience levels. Both of them were brand new Level 2s who had never led a team before. This led to a train wreck to start the event. Both leads were floundering around and needed guidance. Thankfully, we identified fairly quickly that they needed more help and we got the event running smoothly.

Recently, I worked with a judge, who we’ll call Brett, who was dealing with a similar issue as Adam. I had a feeling of déjà vu when I was writing the exact same review again years later for Brett. Brett also had an issue with micromanaging when he was in a leadership position, either as a head judge or a team lead. To his credit, he had taken the feedback to heart and was doing his best to fix it. Like Adam, he swung far to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Brett was lucky, however. He had three experienced Level 2s to lean on who he could trust to get the job done. We could come to him, let him know what we wanted to do, and he would green light it. Rarely did he tell us “No, let’s do something different,” partly because he didn’t need to most of the time, but partly because he was taking such a hands-off approach. My feedback to him after the event ended up being the same as the feedback to Adam–even though the outcome was different.

At my next event, I was discussing what I had learned from my discussion and review of Brett with a couple of other judges. One of them said, “I hadn’t thought about it that way before.” With that revelation, I realized that it was a lesson that other judges could benefit from. Since it Bearz Repeating, here is that feedback.

When head judging an event, make sure that you’re taking time pre-event to think about your team leaders, how good they are, and what kind of support you need. If necessary, get feedback about them from other judges you trust or the Regional Coordinators. This is especially true for Grand Prix and StarCityGames Opens where you have judges coming from a wider area, perhaps even outside your region. Then be ready to change gears if your evaluation is off.

Some judges need that direction from above because they aren’t experienced or that’s what they are used to. Others know their stuff and will chafe at being told what to do with their teams at every turn. Sometimes, you’re going to get it wrong and will need to change gears mid-event. Communication is the key.

If you are being hands-on, ask questions about what your team lead thinks they should be doing. When you see they are getting it right without you leading them to the answer, it may be time for you to back off and let them spread their wings.

If you’re being hands-off, you’ll still want to keep an eye on what your leads are doing and know what is happening on the event. This can be accomplished with simple check-ins of “What’s happening?” throughout the day to see what they are doing. If at any point you see they are going a bit sideways, then you can step in and straighten the ship before it gets out of hand.

Thanks, GeoFitz! I think this is great advice for new and experienced Head Judges alike, as well as anyone interested in stepping into that role in the future. Knowing when to be hands-on and when to be hands-off is challenging, but the right choice will pay big dividends for both the success of your event and the personal development of your staff.

Although George phrases his thoughts in terms of the relationship between a Head Judge and their Team Leads, most of this advice is just as applicable for an individual Team Lead’s interactions with their team members. This additional way of looking at GeoFitz’s advice makes even more sense when you realize that one of the roles of the Head Judge is leading the “team of Team Leads.”

Whatever your role at an event, it’s critically important to remember that everyone has their own leadership style, communication patterns, and other habits. If you work with the same few judges consistently, you’ll likely instinctively start to gel and mesh together as a group. When working with new people, though, it’s just like GeoFitz said: communication is key! Assumptions are the silent killers of events. Asking about your staff members’ preferences, and being explicit about your own expectations, can go a long way towards making your event a success.