How Dungeons and Dragons helped me to become a better agile team member

I play Dungeons and Dragons, the table top roleplaying game that was much maligned in the 80s but has made a strong comeback amongst geeks in recent years. In fact, I was in the team that recently won the UK 2019 Adventurer’s League D&D Open (I played a sarcastic Dragonborn Paladin with a Kiwi accent).

Shameless victory photo inclusion

One thing that I’d noticed is the parallels between the skills used to become a great D&D player are the same skills that I use when becoming part of an agile team.

Adapting to situations

The cave you walked into turns out to be full of hobgoblins? No problem, as a player you come up with a quick solution to charm them all using the harp you pilfered from that no-good bard. Oh and now the cave roof is collapsing…

Just like in the game, your Agile team can have the roof cave in on top of them: changing deadlines, a sudden reordering of priorities or a person leaving the team. The trick is to not panic and be able to roll with it and think of a quick solution that will allow you to respond and move on. Playing a game like D&D allows you to practice how you deal with changes to your plans and how you’ll adapt when situations don’t play out they way you’d hoped they would.

Problem solving

You walk into the room and torches splutter into life. As your eyes become accustomed to the light you see a grid in front of you that’s been etched into the floor, each square has a different letter within it. A stone statue with the body of a lion and face of a young woman pulls itself up into a sitting position, a disinterested voice booms out from it’s stony visage, “I begin eternity and end space…”

Critical thinking to solve challenging puzzles isn’t just for adventurers on epic quests; within our teams we’re frequently tasked to produce creative solutions that tax the brain. Playing in a game that allows you to try out solutions in a low stake gaming environment gets your creative juices flowing and helps you to see how you feel about risks vs. rewards of acting.

Working as a team

Lost in the forests? That Ranger can help you out with their survival knowledge. Magically locked doorway that baffles everyone? The Wizard breaks out their arcane knowledge. Accused of a crime you didn’t commit? Now that silver tongued bard can save the day.

Whilst we all try to be ‘T-shaped’ engineers, no one person is an island and it takes a whole team of people with different skills to build software. D&D, being a cooperative game where different people have different skills, really brings the idea of collaboration to the forefront. By working with other players I’ve not only learned to step aside from a task in favour of other people with better skills rather than to try to ham-fistedly push my way in, I’ve also learned to specifically call other people to the front when it’s their time for the spotlight.

Improv (yes and…)

Can I talk to the barmaid? Yes, and she gives you a hot tip about adventuring work in the town. Can I try to stick my hand into that hole to find treasure? Yes, and although you find some gold you trigger a trap and poisoned darts come flying out of the hole.

Playing as the Dungeon Master or a player within a game means bouncing off of other people’s ideas, frequently using the “Yes and” technique to keep ideas rolling and build on the storytelling. This is a great technique to bring back to your teams for use in design workshops, retros or any creative task. Should user expect an error here? Yes, and the API should send an appropriate authorisation error message. Practice of using yes and techniques is immensely valuable for collaboration and teamwork because nothing shuts down a design workshop quicker than constantly being told no.

I’d encourage everyone to give Dungeons and Dragons a try so they can see how the skills learned in game can be used to make them a better team member too.