How to combat the villains of team writing

Know who those villains are?  Earlier this week I talked about two problems of collaborating in a writing team, in honor of our chapter in Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing.  Of course, these problems can appear anywhere and any time in game development.  Here’s what you can do to combat the two biggest villains: social loafing and production blocking.

You can attack social loafing on two fronts.  Social loafing occurs when team members don’t feel valued, so do what you can to make sure everyone’s contributions are heard and evaluated.  If you have someone on your team who’s really quiet and has trouble being heard, you may need to help him or her speak up outside of the group.  Social loafing also happens when people don’t feel the task is all that important.  Assign each person an important task key to your project’s completion.  You see this approach a lot in some game companies that use pods, or production groups that include a team member from each discipline — a writer, a designer, and a programmer.  Each member brings a unique and important point of view to the conversation, so you’ll see social loafing less often. 

In my earlier post, I told the story of how I ended up writing my junior high school play, and I raised the question as to whether I experienced social loafing.  The answer is no.  Everyone knew their contribution would be valued — and graded — we just didn’t get our act together.  You can just chalk that one up to bad management. 

To prevent production blocking, don’t spend all your time developing ideas in a group.  Allow people to develop ideas in advance of a group meeting, or after, if their ideas didn’t get a chance to be heard. You won’t necessarily have to use the ownership method of decision-making either.  People can bring their ideas together and decide on them through consensus, compromise, or even dictatorship, if that’s how you roll.

Sande and I have added asynchronous brainstorming and story-generating to our bag of tricks.  While we still brainstorm one-on-one, we have added a document where we can throw out ideas and add on to each other’s without blocking each other. 

Have you encountered any of these villains of team writing?  What have you done to overcome them?

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