You’ve Got Mail!

When head judging a large event with many judges, one of your most important tasks is selecting good Team Leads. But your job doesn’t stop there. Even before the event begins, you should ensure that your Team Leads have all the tools and information they need to do their jobs.

My preferred way of doing this is through email. Email is a great communication method because it’s both persistent and preemptive.

When I say “persistent”, I mean that an email is easy to refer to at a later date. Unlike an in-person meeting, the recipients don’t have to try to take notes as I’m talking, further dividing their attention. By virtue of being composed of bits and bytes, the email is always going to be there.

The advantage of being “preemptive” is that you don’t have to wait for the day of the event to have an in-person meeting to discuss things. Instead, you can send your Team Lead email before the event begins, enabling you to hash out some details and get your TLs thinking about the event well in advance. If you then have a meeting with all your Team Leads at the event itself, you don’t have to spend a lot of time going over expectations, but can just briefly recap the important points and go from there.

To give a concrete example, here are the first few paragraphs of the email I sent to the Team Leads for the Standard Open in SCG Providence two weekends ago:

Hello friends!

I wanted to touch base about this Saturday’s SCG Open in Providence.

Since you’ve all done this before, this email is going to mostly focus on big picture statements about my expectations of your roles.

First of all, I’d like to emphasize the importance of communication. As the middle managers of the event, you’re the people I expect to spend the majority of my time interacting with. I’ll be relying on you to keep me informed about how the event is going, who’s doing well on your team, who could use some additional help. To give a concrete guideline, I want to hear from each of you at least once a round, even if it’s just to say “yep, everything’s going smoothly.”

I try to work the phrase “middle manager” into all of my TL emails, in order to emphasize the importance of communicating both “up” (to me, the Head Judge) and “down” (with team members). This stems largely from my own experience as a Team Lead. While I’ve never had trouble keeping in touch with my team members, keeping open lines of communication with the Head Judge was definitely something I struggled with early on, especially when I was team leading on Day 2 of a Grand Prix (judges in red shirts are scary!).

The idea of round-by-round check-ins was something new that I tried for this Open. I’m happy I expressed this goal because it said something specific about how much communication I wanted from my Team Leads, even though ultimately my Team Leads and I both fell short of actually checking in with each other every round. From my perspective, this stemmed from two major causes: first, I got caught up with some major issues early on, so I lost track of this as a concrete goal. Second, I was up on the stage for much of the event, which made it both intimidating and physically difficult for judges to come talk to me. Although I wanted to remain on the stage so I was easy to find for appeals, standing on the floor next to the stage would have accomplished that goal while also making me more accessible. (Thanks to Eric Levine for providing this feedback!)

I plan on setting the same goal for my next big event, but doing a better job of actually tracking which Team Leads I’ve chatted with each round, as well as making sure to be physically more accessible.

In addition to the big-picture briefing email, I also emailed each TL individually to discuss their specific team. Compared to the previous email, this was a much more casual and down-to-earth, and in some cases downright frivolous (Eric “Raging” Levine got an email that ended with “<3 <3 <3").

The first half of these emails focused on issues particular to that team. For instance, SCG has some specific policies about how to handle deck checks, so I put those in the email to my Deck Checks TL.

The second half of the email listed the team members, why they were on that team, and any other relevant information I had about that judge. Some of the descriptions from the SCG Providence emails included:

  • Wants to learn how he can be a better TL; I figured you would be a useful example.
  • I think you two have very different leadership styles so I hope that’s fertile grounds for discussion.
  • He’s leading the “not-Checks” team on Sunday. Working with you should be a good way of exposing him to the various components of that role.
  • I wanted to pair him with an L3 Team Lead since he’s moving towards L2.
  • Asked to work with you for his L3 rec.

I’d never seen a Head Judge list the specific reasons certain judges were put on a given team before, and the response from my Team Leads was very positive. As a rule, Head Judges put a lot of effort into crafting the schedule and team assignments. Communicating why the schedule was set in a certain way is just one small step beyond that, but it makes a big difference.

Sending these personalized emails also opened lines of discussion between me and my Team Leads, not just one-way communication, before the event even began. In my experience, it’s pretty rare for judges to respond to briefing emails, but three of my five TLs replied to this individualized email. This is a practice I definitely plan on continuing, and I encourage you to try it as well!

To recap things: email is an incredibly helpful method for getting in touch with your Team Leads, since you can do it before the event starts and it’s easy for your Team Leads to reference later on. These emails are a great opportunity to set expectations, communicate goals, and share insights into who’s who on their team. These days, I like sending multiple emails: one briefing email to all the TLs, with big-picture goals and expectations; and a separate, individualized email to each TL, listing any team-specific expectations and why each member of their team is actually on that team.

What are your thoughts? As Head Judge, how do you like to communicate with your Team Leads? As a Team Lead, what do you most want to hear from your Head Judge before the event begins?

Thanks for joining me this week! Next week, I’ll talk about what it’s like to actually be the Head Judge of a large staff and wear the red shirt.

2 thoughts on “You’ve Got Mail!

  1. I’m glad you wrote this article, Bears, as it’s something I’ve tried with my smaller staff events, and had given one shot at for a larger HJing event. I’m going to continue developing this communication with judges before events in the future!

  2. Great article and excellent insight for the future. As one of the floor judges on this event, I can say that I felt very connected to you by extension of the team leads during the event. Despite the hiccups early on, I really enjoyed this event and perception of players spoke with was that it ran very smoothly!

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