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Voodoo Berlin Q&A: How To Build A Multicultural And Remote Team In Games

Many of us are having to adjust to the challenges of working from home. We caught up with the team at Voodoo Berlin, to discuss what key components are required to keep such a diverse team running, while managing the challenges of the new normal. 

In today’s current new normal, many of us are having to adjust to the challenges of working from home. Less face to face contact, and frequent video meetings can be tough to endure for those of us who are used to day to day life in the office with regular interactions, meetings and creative brainstorms with their teams. 

For Voodoo Berlin, the team had already developed a working pattern that not only embraced remote roles, but maintained cohesion across team members located in multiple locations around the globe before Covid-19. 

Voodoo has worked to establish and grow multicultural teams that are able to work from anywhere, meaning that talent is not restricted by location. We caught up with the team at Voodoo Berlin, to discuss what key components are required to keep such a diverse team running, while managing the challenges of the new normal. 

What is the recipe for building and running a culturally diverse team?

Before the process can even begin, the core values of working with a multicultural team must be established. Marko Kecman, Product Manager at Voodoo Berlin, states that, “Inclusivity is key to running a successful team in the long run. If this trait is established early on during the early stages of formation, it sets an open, safe space for generating unique ideas and unleashing creativity of everyone in the team.”

Niek Tuerlings, Designer at Voodoo Berlin, supports this sentiment as he comments that, “Being conscious about each team member's cultural heritage can help a lot. For example, as a designer, it's challenging to know how candid you can be within a multicultural team. Even if you have built strong relationships and have a long history with them, there are many pitfalls regarding tone when providing and receiving feedback.”

This all comes down to communication, as Niek shares, “To reference a specific personal learning, some cultures can traditionally be extremely direct and avoid ‘fluffing’ their opinions, which can clash with expected norms. It becomes extremely important to consider communication carefully and meet the standards that others expect. Tolerance and awareness when cultural differences arise can get you a long way.”

By understanding and being aware teams can build closer bonds, which come into play when conflict or challenging situations arise meaning these are resolved effectively. It comes down to the people within the team to make sure the environment can flourish. 

As Sophie Vo, Team Lead at Voodoo Berlin, adds, “Although we have different backgrounds and cultures, we share similar team values and are committed to the same mission. From there, we can discuss, empathise and overcome any challenges.”

How do you foster a positive, nurturing and strong culture when your team works remotely?

Maintaining a strong culture without the physical element of being together in an office is challenging. The ability to have face to face interactions, meetings, and creative sessions is stifled. It is more difficult to offer that 1-1 support and to keep the atmosphere energised and positive. 

To add to this the social side of work is impacted, with elements like a drink with team mates or casual office banter not as easy to foster. Remote working can lead to communication bottlenecks and feelings of isolation. It becomes even more important to support teams in their efforts and ensure that feelings of alienation don’t arise. Virtual quizzes and Zoom calls aside, the team at Voodoo Berlin place great value on keeping their culture strong. 

One of the key elements Voodoo has focused on is making virtual meetings more playful and engaging. As Marko comments, “Use collaborative tools like Figma, Google Sheets, FunRetro along with conferencing apps to give team members an unbroken experience of seamlessly working together. Another great approach is to find ways to gamify workshops with these tools. For example, we held a workshop on “areas of responsibility” and used Figma to make a small game where everyone could move their avatars to vote on actions and movement of the games playable character.”

Alongside engaging the team in new ways to communicate it's also important to check in with the team and ensure that they feel supported as isolation can cause team members to suffer in silence. Niek comments on this issue, “Being unavailable without notice for long stretches of time easily creates a social barrier, as others can't see the mental state you're in.”

Marko adds to this, “teams must take time for sessions of relaxation and use them to get to know each other better. We gather every week to play games, deconstruct them, but also play competitive and have fun! Individual hobbies are an excellent thing to cover and share within the team, which can produce long lasting friendships.”

It’s these friendships which are key to build, and just because you aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean you can’t be connected. Niek explains that one of the key ways to foster positivity is keeping that fun element of the office in play, “being able to joke around before, after or even during meetings is a virtue, as long as it doesn't impact the teams effectiveness of course. Messing about with your webcam filters, pouring a well-deserved drink on Friday afternoon or having team-wide gaming sessions can massively help alleviate the feelings of isolation.”

Sophie adds that it is really a team effort to ensure the culture is strong, “I’m never the only one fostering positive energy in the team! It’s thanks to our great colleagues that strong culture and positive thinking wins out, even during the challenging circumstances. It hasn’t been easy everyday, but we talk about problems and our feelings openly. We listen and support each other as people first, colleagues second.”

How do you connect a team around a common mission to inspire them?

A common goal is a great motivator, and helps focus the efforts of a team on a singular task. By building on a grand, overarching ambition, it gives everyone a driving force to aim for. A target helps colleagues stay on track, to know what's important even when things get tough. 

For Voodoo Berlin ensuring that everyone hired understands the mission and vision of the studio is key. As Sophie explains, “Everyone who decides to join in the journey strives for the same ambition and that’s what connected all of us all in the first place. Our mission is to add value in people’s lives by creating new meaningful experiences for an audience who don't see themselves as gamers. We care a great deal about that mission. This is what keeps us together during hard times.”

How do you approach hiring team members to ensure the chemistry and cultural fit is strong?

Hiring is never an easy process, and to keep a great team going strong the task of adding to it comes down to far more than just evaluating competency. The wrong personality can clash and disrupt, so finding the right people is even more important to a diverse team. 

The chemistry has got to be right otherwise it won’t work, as Sophie expresses her approach when hiring is to focus on cognitive diversity. She clarifies that, “As a creative team, it is important to have different perspectives and personality types who are able to challenge each, converging on great, innovative ideas. What contributes to cognitive diversity is education, experience, individual personality and culture.”

However this isn’t the only measure when building a team, especially a diverse one. It all goes back to having shared values and experiences. As Sophie shares, “if people share similar values and have a common mission, the individual differences become more a strength than a blocker.”

How do you find your dream team?

The ‘dream’ team is the ambition of any hiring manager looking to create a body of experts for their next major project. Chasing those perfect candidates for the roles can take a long time and extensive effort, and developing the art of finding the best fit is something that the team at Voodoo Berlin has spent many years building.

When building your dream team, Sophie says a key element is ,”having clarity on who you want and the values you need in the team to execute your mission is key.  It’ll help you make the right decisions throughout the whole process and quickly identify who may not be a good match. Instead of looking for the perfect candidates, it is much more effective to focus on avoiding the wrong ones.”

Alongside these elements is the key factor of time and effort. Sophie shares her team building experience, “It took me at least 6 months to assemble the core team with the right people alone. It takes time to get to know someone, and assess if that person is right for you, your mission and the team.”

What values are the most important to have in team members when building a team?

When it comes to building a team the key is to be aligned on the values you hold most important and to search for team members who hold these similar values to work towards your shared mission.   

As Niek clarifies, “Tolerance, empathy, patience and respect are the big four in my opinion. If even one of these things is missing in any of the team's members, it damages the social dynamic. This can create unease, anxiousness, distance or even toxicity, which are deadly to any creative environment.”

Artist at Voodoo Berlin Aline Krebs adds her perspective to this, “I realised the most important value for me is to be open-minded. To be open-minded about different cultures and habits, and not judge people based only on what they say or do. Context is so important, and without it understanding a culture is much harder. We also have to take into account not just our different personalities but our backgrounds, enabling us to work so much more efficiently.”

Developer Oleh Mekhedok comments from his own experience that when it comes to being a game developer curiosity and perseverance are key. “Curiosity allows you to constantly learn new things, experiment and make discoveries, and perseverance will help to complete what you started!”

Aline also explains that when it comes to working in a team communication is key. “We have to communicate in the best way possible, and if we don't understand something, clarity is key. There are no dumb questions here.” Alongside this it is important to be kind when offering feedback or constructive criticism. She adds, “As a rule, I find it extremely important to thank a team member when you think they have performed well, but also give honest feedback to help them get better at what they do."

As Sophie concludes from a team lead perspective, “I selected four key values initially framed when I formed the team, but, the most important values in the end are those lived by the team and not ones I talk about.”

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