From quests to code, the connection between gaming and software development runs deep. Stewart Butterfield and Cal Henderson, Slack’s co-founders, learned this organically when they stumbled upon creating a leading productivity tool while initially working on their online game, Glitch.

Let’s explore how the journey of Slack’s creation mirrored gaming principles such as embracing failure, fostering creativity and playing different roles to battle “dragons” — the inevitable pitfalls and roadblocks that pop up during any product build. 

3 ways to make your team stronger

  1. Embrace your team’s diversity.
  2. Nurture trust and communication.
  3. Promote creativity and innovation.

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Leveling Up Through Teamwork

Much like a multiplayer game, teams comprise people from many different locations, roles and skill sets who come together in a collaborative space to navigate challenges. Together, they learn to balance timing, kindness, and effective communication while actively fighting common development dragons.

Here are three ways to level up your team’s strengths and connection to overcome obstacles.


Tap into the diversity of your team

When team members with varying backgrounds and skill sets come together, their unique perspectives, insights and expertise can collectively provide the knowledge needed to solve challenging product issues.

The wisdom and varied viewpoints of the team enable quicker decision-making and problem-resolution for faster product development. By tapping into the strengths of each team member, the company can accelerate its ability to bring products to market, gaining a competitive edge.


Build a culture of trust and communication

In multiplayer games and professional work teams, trust and communication are essential for effective teamwork and success.

To build a culture where team members feel safe to express their thoughts and concerns, start by establishing open lines of communication and encouraging active listening. Structure meetings in ways that promote team connection, where decisions are discussed collectively and everyone’s voice is considered. Team members who feel valued and supported are more likely to contribute and bring their best work.


Encourage innovation and creativity

In multiplayer games, players must think outside the box, adapt to unpredictable situations and devise creative strategies to outsmart their opponents. The same is true in a professional work environment where innovative mindsets can drive product advancements.

To encourage innovation and creativity, create an environment where team members feel comfortable taking risks, cross-pollinating ideas and giving and accepting feedback. Team leaders and managers should emphasize that no idea is a bad idea and that every suggestion holds value.

In an atmosphere where individuals are not afraid of judgment, team members will take more risks and explore unconventional approaches, unlocking the next level of potential.


Fueling Innovation Through Failure

In World of Warcraft, one of my favorite massively multiplayer online role-playing games, the first time you run at that enormous, scary dragon and stab it with your little wooden sword, you immediately realize that you’ve made a horrible underestimation about what is needed to defeat it. But since you haven’t faced this challenge before, you don't know what you don’t know.

After learning on the fly and going through several iterations of trial and error, you finally realize that metal is better than wood for swords, so you apply your new knowledge, et voila — you beat the dragon. Well, that dragon. There’s always another one at the next level that requires a different approach.

Like skilled gamers, good software teams recognize the crucial role of failure in their journey. They understand it’s okay to fail and that it’s a necessary part of the process. What sets successful teams apart is their emphasis on failing quickly to learn faster.

When faced with challenges, successful teams adopt a mindset of experimentation and hypothesis testing. They don’t shy away from trying new ideas or approaches, fully aware that not all will succeed. By failing quickly, they gain valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t, allowing them to course-correct and iterate rapidly. This accelerates the learning process and minimizes the impact of failures on the project. If a poorly implemented idea is discovered early through rapid failure, teams can rectify the situation before it causes significant repercussions. By catching and addressing mistakes swiftly, they mitigate potential setbacks and avoid compounding challenges.

Most importantly, failing quickly promotes a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. When team members feel encouraged to take risks and learn from failures, they become more willing to explore unconventional solutions, push boundaries and slay new dragons.

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You Slayed the Dragon. Now What?

Creativity is what allows developers to make every software interaction entertaining for customers. Once a development level is complete and the dragon is metaphorically slain, it’s time for what we at Slack call a “surprise and delight pass.” It’s an opportunity to add something fun and unexpected to a mundane part of the product.

When we realized, for example, that people sometimes forgot to hang up after a Slack huddle, my team put their creative caps on in search of a solution. They could’ve added a generic beep or bell that pinged a reminder to disconnect. Instead, the team found music from Slack's original Glitch video game soundtrack and landed on the perfect fix. This simple hold sound makes a not-so-fun moment at work more festive, so much so that people regularly tweet about it and approach us at conferences to tell us how much they love it.


How You Win the Game

To successfully reach these full-circle moments, players with various skill sets must work together, communicate, stay creative and be allowed to fail. When playing World of Warcraft, I opted to play a character called the “tank.” The tank is the one who keeps others alive, taking the dragon’s punches and fire and distracting it from the players working to defeat it and proceed to the next level.

Good team leaders should play the role of the tank. They get rid of obstacles, take the heat and make it as easy as possible for the wonderful, magical people slaying dragons daily to do what they do best, effortlessly and efficiently. That’s how you win the game.

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