How to Build High Performing Game Teams

Read Time: 5 Minutes

The team is the nucleus of value in the games industry. The vast majority of teams we’ve encountered, however, are not high-performing teams. Part of the problem is that leaders don’t know what high performance looks like. More challenging is that they don’t know what their role looks like on a high-performing team, so they’ll (subconsciously) prefer a team with lower performance to feel like they are adding value.

Most leaders will attempt to push a team toward higher performance by implementing systems and encouraging compliance. Compliance and “rule following” puts the performance burden on that system instead of the team. It’s a great approach for the “lowest common denominator.” Gross right?

Compliance is naturally opposed to the dynamic nature of collaboration, Active prioritization, and creativity. We need to harness that dynamism and emergence from the team to iterate toward the best solutions quickly. No amount of control or management can push us there. The ideal role of the leader is to force-multiply that dynamism and point it in the right direction.

The first step to being able to build high-performing teams yourself is to be able to spot one. Today, I’ll walk you through the 4 key performance areas and give you some tips to get your teams there.

Great Teams Collaborate

The best teams we’ve encountered are “hyper collaborators.”

  1. They dynamically create conversations as needed to move the ball forward.

  2. They are comfortable with uncertainty and support each other through it.

  3. They always consider the team & system above their individual discipline work.

  4. They are laser-focused on the goal & create accountability with each other toward it.

  5. They have regular & healthy conflicts that they resolve gracefully with the goal in mind.

One of the first experiences I had with a super high-performing team early in my career was game-changing. I’ve never seen something so loose and organic work so well. There was an incredible focus as this team moved toward the goal. They had ultra-concise conversations as needed and changed their work, role, and stance to support each other in reaching it.  Whiteboard conversations dynamically emerged as they worked through confusion, misalignment, or uncertainty.

At this point in my career, I struggled to add value. I didn’t know how to contribute to what they had already built instead of putting a bunch of my systems in place. I had trouble following the conversations, knowing where to add processes, and keeping up with the pace of change. 

This is what it will feel like to be a manager initially on a team like this.  You must resist the urge to force your agenda on a team like this.

The trick about collaboration is that it’s all behavioral. No process or tools you put in place will create collaboration (although it could encourage it). As a leader, you will need to be able to work with your team on behavior to get them there. Here are some tips:


  1. Write down a list of collaborative & non-collaborative behaviors on your team. Stack rank them by impact and then discuss them with your team.

  2. Talk through the external incentives and the direction they’re pushing the team.

  3. Create visualizations of the work in the team’s “space” to stimulate useful collaborative conversations.

  4. Any time blockers, concerns, or conflicts occur, lead the team to spin up a conversation at that moment.

Extra: If you want a deep dive into what great collaboration looks like and what a massive impact it can have. Read “The Collaboration Equation” by Jim Benson.

Great teams communicate directly & honestly

 It’s so obvious it’s painful, but 98% of teams are tip-toeing around each other, afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or protecting their interests at the expense of the team meeting its goals.

We spend more time and effort communicating than I’ve seen in my career, yet our effectiveness seems to be decreasing.

High-performing teams are concise, focused, and supportive in their communication. When there’s confusion or disagreement, they return to collaboration mode and quickly resolve the issue. They don’t add a lot of fluff, and they are bold about taking the risk that something might not be received well. They spend their “trust capital” with each other liberally for speed and efficiency and lean on the confidence that they have each other’s backs.

These teams have a roughness or an edge in the way they talk to each other. Conversations are pointed, focused, and enthusiastic. There is a clear goal in mind, and they trust that they share that goal. They are willing to take the emotional hit at the moment and work through it if it means achieving that focus, clarity, and speed. They trust each other.


  1. Communicate concisely without caveats. The more the receiver has to “decode” the message, the longer everything takes. Take the risk of being misunderstood and lean into trust.

  2. Surface conflict and work through it immediately. Time box, if necessary, but allow the team to face that openly and collaboratively. 

  3. Psychological safety is not just about protecting the receiver; it’s also about protecting the transmitter. If it’s not safe to speak your mind, nobody will. Be willing to say and hear uncomfortable things, so your team will follow suit.

  4. Ensure your team frames conversations with the goal so that people’s personal preferences don’t lead to endless debates. The best teams will do this naturally.

Great Teams Have Accountability

It’s not a low-performing team because people need to be held accountable. It’s a high-performing team because the members are comfortable holding each other accountable.

The highest-performing teams I’ve seen had accountability conversations with each other openly, quickly, and regularly.

You’ll see a theme here: these teams rapidly “force” these micro-confrontations, then work through them at a rate that most teams cannot compete with. Their ability to do this allows them to iterate past 100 challenges when most teams are stuck over one disagreement or a long overdue hard conversation.

“Why are you working on that? I thought we agreed to focus on X?”

“Remember, in the morning meeting, we agreed to pivot to Y!”

“I’m sorry, I got distracted and should have helped you out with Z today. I’ll link up with you first thing tomorrow”.

You should always hear things like this if your team is open and comfortable about accountability.

Like a sports team, they might playfully rib each other or push each other to improve. It’s much harder to skip a day at the gym when your roommate is going daily.


  1. In every interaction, encourage your team to make agreements or micro-commitments with each other. This allows them to hold each other accountable later on.

  2. When agreements aren’t honored, have your team broach the conversations openly and immediately. Get them comfortable with those conversations.

  3. Hold them accountable as a team so they will hold each other accountable. Don’t play middle-person to resolve team conflicts.

Great Teams Drive Results/Outcomes

“I view my job as solving problems using technology.” 

-One of the best Engineering Managers I’ve ever worked with.

The best teams focus on the goal more than their own skill sets.

He was building that culture into all of his engineers.

Great teams talk about the audience. They talk about the goal.

 “The objective isn’t something some “manager” should be thinking about and writing down for us. Hell no.”

“ We wouldn’t source that to anybody else. We know who we’re serving, and we understand the problem. We’re going to fix it.”

That’s the attitude of a high-performing team. They can’t rest until the problem is solved. They aren’t satisfied just finishing some work and calling it a day. They want to succeed. They want to meet the goal.

That anxiety and discomfort around solving real problems is a hallmark of these teams. You, as a manager, will have to be comfortable letting them focus less on their disciplines or task work and instead let them navigate at the problem layer.


  1. Get your team talking about the goals regularly. If that’s someone else’s responsibility, you need to bring that into the team as quickly as possible. (I.e., get the designer or product manager to discuss with them regularly).

  2. Actively combat the behavior of “I’m just going to do my work.” This attitude kills high-performing teams.

  3. If a team is generating results but not in the way you think they should be doing it, get out of the way!

  4. Set up a structure where people are rewarded for solving problems, supporting their team, or accomplishing the goal above getting their work done.

Wrapping Up:

The 4 key areas you should assess when identifying high-performing teams are

  1. Collaboration

  2. Open & honest communication

  3. Comfort with accountability

  4. Goal Focus over Work Focus.

The things YOU are being held accountable for can actually get in the way of your team becoming (or being) high-performance. If that’s the case, you need to tread carefully. Too many leaders lower their teams' performance to make their boss (or studio) happy.

If you can get your team humming in these 4 areas, then you’re well on your way to having the capability to build high-performing teams.

Always remember that 90% of this is behavioral. As a holistic leader, you need to be able to influence your team to behave differently to solve these kinds of problems!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways we can help you…

—>Courses built by game devs for game devs - check out “Succeeding in Game Production” HERE.

—>Regular deep dives on critical game development topics on the BBG podcast

—>If you’re stuck with leadership problems or complex development issues at your studio, we can coach you 1:1 to solve those problems and get clear results.  Email [email protected], and we’ll set you up with a discovery call.

“Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. 'Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.”

-David Hume

“Leadership is doing the right thing at the right time. But more than anything, it’s the honest expression of agency”

-Jim Benson