GP Shizuoka – First Team Leading Experience

Alan Peng, Level 2, Auckland, New Zealand

Alan Peng, Level 2, Auckland, New Zealand

Team leading is an essential quality of a high-level magic judge. In large events, the head judge cannot possibly oversee everything that is happening at once. Hence, it is up to team leaders to act as pillars of support, delegating and overseeing relevant cards to ensure a smooth and prompt tournament. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have a go at team leading on Sunday of GP Shizuoka, which is particular interesting as most of the participant base speaks either very little or no English at all. Combining feedback received and personal experiences, I would like to share some lessons learnt as a team lead, to help newer judges avoid some possible pitfalls, and to solicit further feedback from experienced judges about how we can all improve.

Team leading requires a different approach to how you would run a tournament in another judging role, and it is necessary to be able to shift your mentality into one of a team lead.

As a team lead, you are responsible for ensuring that you and your team can look after a section of the tournament well – which will compliment the other teams to allow the overall tournament to be successful. This means the team lead will need to constantly look at a bigger picture – making sure that the team you are leading are covering all the bases that needs to be covered, and liaising with other team leads to a certain degree to avoid bottlenecks that will slow the tournament down. Contrasting this, a floor judge generally contributes to the overall success by focusing their efforts on filling specific roles within the section your team is tasked to perform.

My biggest weakness in the tournament was failing to adapt to the correct mentality. Being more familiar with the role of floor judge, I was constantly performing tasks that would make me an excellent floor judge. However, that made me unable to see a clearer picture of everything that was going on, and may not have been able to make satisfactory responses if issues arose. This also makes it harder for your team members to find you when they need something resolved, which is not optimal.

It is not an easy mentality to shift as humans tend to default back to what they are used to when faced with an unknown or challenging situation. To help with this, you should…

Delegate, delegate, delegate – and use your team!

Delegation is an important skill once you realize that you alone will not be enough to do everything and be able to keep the greater picture in mind. Therefore, you should trust your other team members to be able to carry out specific tasks allowing you to take a step back and focus on the larger picture instead. Don’t be afraid to delegate either – giving your team member responsibilities show that you trust them to be able to contribute something positively. What I have also learned is anything is delegatable – you just need to have the experience to know what can be delegated.

Unfortunately for me my inexperience as a team lead and nervousness in doing so for the first time led me to not delegate as much as I could have. While I had assigned major tasks to my team members, there were a few small things here and there that I could have certainly delegated. On the plus side, I took action to ensure that time wastage is reduced such as getting everyone to clean up the deck check area before the whole team arrived for the briefing. This allowed us to save time later in the day and have a clean area to work with. To help better understand and determine tasks to delegate in the next event, it is advisable to…

Take notes. Take lots of them. Come prepared with them as well.

Notes are great. They help you in organizing your thoughts into smaller chunks of data that is more easily understood and processed. Furthermore, they serve as memory aids so you won’t forget things. Being able to take notes beforehand allows you to have a easy reference both to help you grasp the tasks that need completed, as well as allowing you to be more proactive by being able to address potential issues or problems before they could arise. Throughout the day, notes can help you in identifying strengths and weaknesses in members of your teams to help you both give verbal (face-to-face) and written (through the judge centre) feedback – an important quality of judging.

I did not manage to take as much notes as I hoped to for several reasons. Firstly, I did not prepare enough notes for the day. I have read articles and did some discussions prior to the day, and had a good idea of what was expected as a team lead. However, the lack of notes meant that I ended up missing out on small details throughout the day from the team briefing as well as small facts that I could have confirmed with the Head Judge (such as whether it was better to focus on continuing with checks or looking out for possible bribery in the last round) before directing the team. As mentioned beforehand – I was too focused on doing floor judge roles that I did not manage to take many notes on how the team performed throughout the day, which lost me good opportunities to provide quality feedback. Speaking of feedback…

It is essential to achieve both smooth tournament operations and management of your team.

A successful team lead is not only one that ensures that the tournament runs smoothly, but one that also makes sure that there is cohesive teamwork and teambuilding between the team he or she is leading. If the team does not feel like or work as one, then the team leader has not succeed. This may be slightly harder on Saturdays as it takes a lot more work managing the tournament operations, but Sundays are usually more relaxed which allows additional opportunities for team building exercises. In this regard having a buddy system when you pair members of your team up is a great idea as the two members can work together to compliment and learn off each other creating opportunities for feedback and growth.

My role in promoting the team building aspect at Shizuoka was a bit mixed. I decided to not start the team briefing with self introductions, which was a mistake because due to language differences the briefing went longer than expected which meant we did not have proper time to make self introductions. If I was to team lead again, I would make sure that introductions happen before anything else. Introductions also serve as an opportunity for each judge to present goals and improvements that they wish to achieve, an opportunity I did not manage to utilize properly due to the lack of detailed introductions. I did, however made an assessment of each member’s English/Japanese capabilities and paired them according to their language skills so they had more opportunities to familiarize themselves with the other languages. Despite that, I feel like I failed to fully explain the merits and my expectations for pairing the members of my team up the way I did.

Additionally, at the start of the day I was more concerned with making sure I got the operational aspect right, and neglected the team building side of the equation. Throughout the day, I progressively became more relaxed and confident and tried to focus more on the team building aspect. I made sure that we had short team meetings at the end of each round to engage and encourage each other, although it would have been better if I set a specific time to meet at the end of each round (e.g. 10 minutes left on the clock) right at the start of the day. A fellow judge also gave feedback that he felt more like we were functioning as a team later during the day, which was a good thing to hear.

Ensure that you can support your decisions with reasoning, be flexible, and motivating.

Throughout the day, you as a team lead will make many decisions, some smaller, some larger. The level 3 judge observing me would sometime question me why I made certain decisions (such as how I divided my team members into pairs the way I did – which made me realize I did not fully explain my decision to split the teams that way). Through this exercise, I came to realize that as a successful and competent leader, you must be able to explain and defend your decisions both to raise confidence of yourself and the team that would better understand and appreciate your decisions.

It is also important to be flexible and willing to listen to suggestions and opinions. At the beginning of the day I decided to try using a method of deck checks that keeps the order of the deck the same, while checking that every non-basic card in the deck has been registered on the sheet in order to eliminate the need for the 3 additional minutes of re-shuffling. I encouraged the team members to try between their normal deck check methods (organizing the cards by colour etc.) and the experimental method to compare the two, which generated interesting discussions at the end of the day. There were also small suggestions given throughout the day by the team members which contributed to smoother operations.

Another role as a team lead is to motivate and encourage your team. Therefore, it is important to speak in a way that is confident and motivating. For example, at the start of the day I used words such as “and let’s hope everything goes all right.” A better way to word it would have been “and let’s make everything go amazingly well.” or something along those lines. Even though it is a small change, the overall tone changes drastically, projecting more confidence and positivity.

Wrapping Up

Team leading at a Grand Prix was a novel and interesting experience for me that required a set of skills that was different to what I was used to. Whilst I had my head in the right place, and knew what I needed to be successful, my inexperience and nervousness meant that I could not fully achieve what I needed to be a successful team lead. However, it was a successful learning experience, and I look forwards to be able to apply what I have learned the next time I team lead at a Grand Prix.

Special thanks to Jernej Lipovec and Gerard Trpin for their extensive feedback.

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