Three Ways Your Manager Can Be Better

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Out of the hundreds of junior people we’ve spoken to over the years, one thing strikes me repeatedly:

Management is nowhere to be seen.

I can think of 10 examples off the top of my head where:

  • There was no growth plan

  • They had no idea what their bosses' expectations were

  • They couldn’t get ahold of or meet their boss most days.

  • They were actively shut down by their boss when trying to drive change

  • They had no idea what to do to get promoted other than just “work hard and stick around.”

And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not kidding; this is easily 90% of all cases related to management relationships.

Most managers focus on managing external expectations and distributing workload as their primary focus areas.

This doesn’t work because, frankly, it doesn’t scale worth a damn. It also bottlenecks each direct report into being just a cog in the machine. Lucky if they manage to land in an organization where they can be railroaded into a senior role at some point in the future.

Our mission is to get this industry to where the products and organizations are much better, specifically through leadership.

To do that, we must ensure that the next generation of leaders has every possible advantage. If we’re feeling cynical and frustrated about the industry today, this is one of the easiest ways to right the ship.

Today, we’ll give you some practical tips to enrich your relationships with your direct reports, set them up for success, or change the narrative if you’re on the receiving end of some sub-par management yourself.

Boundaries are for Learning

Far too many managers are boxing in their people for stupid reasons. This is to the detriment of the person’s growth and your sanity (more on that last part in a bit).

Boundaries are for getting your direct reports to focus, accelerating their learning on the things that matter most.

Boundaries are not tools for control, enforcing hierarchy, or getting people to “stay in their lane.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to junior leaders who say things like:

“I don’t think my boss will let me do that.”

“Whenever I ask about this, I get told to focus on the JIRA project.”

“That’s the design team's call; my manager told me not to worry about it.”

This is insane. We want our people to go out, ask hard questions, and solve the problems that matter.

Where did all of these arbitrary boundaries come from?

There is nothing wrong with putting some guardrails in place so someone can grow and we mitigate risk, but one of the best ways to mitigate risk is to teach them to think critically and solve real problems in their space, regardless of whether that fits into the narrow definition of their role or some other corporate nonsense.


  1. Focus processes on mitigating project/studio risk instead of boxing the person. I used to say, “I’ll never get upset if a meltdown occurs; I’ll only get upset if you don’t immediately bring it to my attention.”

  2. Always celebrate direct reports' impact, not just “doing the work.” 

  3. Never chastise people when they go outside of their boundaries to have a positive impact.

  4. Make sure you have your views on what your reports should focus on, and you’re selling that to your stakeholders. It’s a huge risk to just follow the scripted roles of the org.

Let them Solve Problems for You

It is good if your people are doing more than you’re comfortable with.

There are a lot of truisms here, like “let them put you out of a job.” Or “I know when I’m not needed, I’m doing something right.”

It’s not about that. It’s about scaling leadership in the most effective way possible.

That means having as many people as possible who can think critically, discern good solutions, make decisions promptly, and take ownership of problems.

That’s good for your game, studio, player, and you.

 If we find ourselves in situations where we’re just breaking work into smaller pieces and distributing it to people, we’re failing. Period.

The dark truth about that approach is that it’s typically more about control and our comfort than what’s best for the game and for our people. We should celebrate every act where a leader takes MORE responsibility and does something great for the studio.


  1. Ask your reports regularly about what problems they see around them. Once you do the critical thinking exercise above, encourage them to take ownership of it and drive a solution.

  2. When they solve some of these meaty problems, make sure that you write them down so they come up during their next evaluation.

  3. Watch closely how they tackle those problems and who’s taking ever-more ownership. You should always know who your successor is. That person you should actively be grooming.

  4. Actively seek to remove entire areas of responsibility from your plate and hand them to your direct reports. This is where a lot of managers get uncomfortable. Your job is not to make sure a bunch of work gets done.  It is to run a sustainable and effective organization. 

Build Individualized Growth Plans

Every single report should have a custom-built growth plan.

This should include the following elements.

  1. What the organization needs most broadly speaking (impact).

  2. What skills do they need to develop to be the most effective in their craft (discipline)

  3. What skills do they need to build to elevate their career (promotion path)

  4. Their personal career goals (their long-term career ambition/direction)

The model here is Studio->Team->Discipline->Self in that order.

If there is awareness in all 4 categories, it will be easier than you think to find “projects” the person can embark on to fill parts of each bucket. The goal is to “hit as many birds” with one stone as possible.

A good rule of thumb is if you, your manager, and the report are excited about your plan.

Once I understand what’s in each of the 4 buckets above (a conversation I’ll typically have with all of my reports after thinking about it on my own), I break the plan into three pieces.

  1. The goals for the next X months for the direct report. (90-day plans can work well)

  2. What the report needs to demonstrate to themself and to me.

  3. Projects that, if done well, would have the most impact on point 2.

This will create a crack-shot plan that everyone will feel good about. It will also provide the direct report with much clarity to move forward and focus on what matters.


  1. Spend time to understand what the organization needs most from your direct reports. Bring that into your growth plan conversations.

  2. Write down what you need in your organization to scale leadership effectively. Bring that, too.

  3. Discuss the “4 buckets” with your direct reports individually. You should have a clear direction in buckets 1, 2, and 3.

  4. Once aligned with the report, draw out the goals, demonstration, and specific projects using the 3-step process outlined above. Document what’s agreed on. This will be your ammunition for future stakeholder reviews, advocacy, or evaluations.


We are at the tip of the spear in the most complex field humanity has ever known: Technology. Add to that the creative element of the work we do in games, and we now have an N-squared complexity problem every day.

We need to build the next generation of leaders to have a future.

To set those leaders up for success, we need to guide them effectively. Maybe in ways that we were never guided ourselves.


  1. Avoid arbitrary boundaries unless it’s a growth strategy.

  2. Encourage them to solve problems for you and remove areas of concern from your plate.

  3. Build focused & individualized growth plans so each report can “hit the target” as accurately as possible and move up in their careers.

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

—>We’ve helped many high-profile game studios save a ton of money & time through building clear vision and leveling up leadership. If you’d like to work with us, please reach out at [email protected].

“The proverb warns that, 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself..”

 - Thomas Stephen Szasz

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

 - Charles Dickens