Book Review: The Team that Managed Itself

Book review: "The Team that Managed Itself" is an entertaining yet informative view of a team in a game studio that can teach real world lessons

Book Review: The Team that Managed Itself

Christina Wodtke’s latest is a gripping read, combining a compelling story line, with some novel, and useful ideas to help team dynamics and how to lead.

Without giving too much of the story away (trust me, this is a page turner) the main protagonist is Allie, a product manager of a studio at a game company. The studio is like a little business unit with a lot of autonomy, yet strong responsibilities to the executive staff. Her “product,” a game called Quiltworld, is a hit, and Allie is proud of her creation.

But early in the tale, you see some of the challenges of product management – regardless of where and what technology you are in – festering. A disconnected boss, some internal team strife, and other warts that we in product management often grumble about in private, but work through as we have little direct ability to address.

Then Allie is promoted (on an interim basis) to the GM role for her studio. Suddenly, she has the authority as well as the responsibility to keep the team performing.

Not wanting to spoil the tale, I will stop there, and let you discover this masterpiece for yourself. I will point out that Allie has an amazing formal and informal network of advisors that stretches credulity. My personal experience is that once you get to the GM level, the intensity of politics, personal positioning, and competition among peers (friendly and less friendly) is kicked up to 11.

But the story isn’t the whole book. Woven into the tale are solid ideas including a method of situational reporting (the GROW method, that Allie’s husband, from the HR world introduces to her), and the concept of using a canvas for evaluating a role to be hired for.

The book is chocked full of great ideas that are intuitive, visual, and compelling. You just want to put them into action.

The last part of the book, after the conclusion of the gripping drama, is the meat of the systems and methods that Christina introduces via her story telling. Plenty of meat to take away, chew on, and to influence your thinking.

Who should read this:

If you are a product manager or product leader, looking for the next wrung as a GM, ondering what it is like to finally have complete control over budget, headcount, strategy, and the whole business, this book is for you. If you have a pie in the sky view of how wonderful it would be to be the executive for your slice of the world, this will bring that to the real world. Not to scare you, but to open your eyes.

If you are a GM level person, struggling with your business unit, this book will offer several concrete strategies for coping, and to improve the dynamic. Remember though, that you will need to effectively deal with the issues. Often that starts with personnel, moving the ineffective or toxic people out, and improving the hiring and recruitment process to ensure that you get both technical acuity and cultural alignment. One theme in the story is that toxic people can and do destroy team cohesiveness.

Final thoughts

Christina is a fabulous speaker, and one of her trademarks is compelling visualizations of concepts. You will see several instances of this throughout the story and the back material. A joy to see, and even for people like me who can’t draw stick figures, very impactful.

I highly recommend this book. The compelling and thoroughly engaging tale, coupled with the brass tacks to support the methods Christina writes about is worth the price of admission.