What Fortnite can Teach Us about Building an Agile Workplace

by Stephen Evans

The environment in which government agencies operate has become increasingly complex, characterised by uncertainty and a rapidly evolving strategic landscape. Solutions require a dynamic and tailored approach rather than a standardised approach government operating models often deliver. Departments need to be decisive in their response to these changes. The challenge is striking the right balance of accountability and agility to deliver real public value.

There is a clear rationale for governments to operate a rigid hierarchical structure, creating specialist compartmented groups, branches and sections. This vertical hierarchy provides order, clear channels of communication and promotes accountability; underscored by physical teams, often physically co-located to achieve a common outcome. But is this model fit for the digital age and how can it become more agile?

Agile theory is quickly gaining momentum as we acknowledge the rise of “the age of agile” (Denning 2019) with global companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple all adopting agile models. It is widely agreed that a range of factors contribute to poor collaboration and prevent agile practices:

  • Lack of a shared goal
  • Lack of communication
  • Generational differences
  • Dispersed teams
  • Rigid governance

The directive is simple – reduce silos, increase horizontal collaboration and maintain accountability, prompting discussions of ‘taskforce models’, integrated footprints and physically co-located teams. We only have to look to Gen Z modelling agile teams and leading dispersed groups in their pursuit to achieve the ‘Victory Royale.’ Yes Fortnite.

You might wonder what 100 avatars, controlled by teenagers, jumping out of the battle bus into a cartoon world full of noobs, slurp and scars can teach us about agile working practices?

These nimble players are building and leading dynamic, temporary and almost exclusively virtual teams that place behaviours and culture at the centre of their quest exemplifying agile delivery.

These young strategists appear to inherently know that a lack of commitment, understanding or ownership of strategic plans will result in failure. Each player intimately understands the shared vision – for their squad to be the last one standing to achieve the infamous ‘victory royale’. Each squad member understands the strategy, the component parts and outcomes and how their input achieves their shared goal as they have co-developed a strategy sprint to deliver their intent.

They did not opt for the traditional hierarchical approach. They intuitively built cross functional and self-managed teams characterised by flat structures and defined vertical lines for accountability.

Evidenced in the team’s implied expectation is that squad members collect their required materials and share these amongst the team to ensure they are equipped for the task, remaining disciplined and not moving to the next stage until the current lead shouts “let’s find higher ground”.

Their ability to quickly recruit team members based on capabilities results in balanced multi-disciplinary teams that adapt quickly to the changing environment and enabled the effortless transfer of leadership, to the most capable team member dependent on the task.

Whilst many organisations are characterised by physical teams at physical locations, struggling with advances in technology, Gen Z quickly build globally dispersed virtual teams from their bedrooms.

Traditional processes such as building rapport by face to face interaction isn’t a consideration for these pioneering leaders. Engaging ‘random mode’, in the game, players must quickly build relationships without knowing the players, their location and capability. Armed with a headset to communicate, they navigate this with ease; quickly trusting that all team members share a common vision.

The squad’s ability to make quick decisions in a dynamic and uncertain environment is remarkable. Decisions to ‘rush’ other squads or to utilise difficult equipment highlights awareness of their collective ability to achieve outcomes.They rapidly make decisions and learn from their mistakes.

Failure isn’t the end of the process. It is a critical step in continuous learning and improvement.

Squad members change daily or throughout the sessions with squads adapting their approach, dependant on previous success and the current team’s capability. This ability to embrace the fail fast, fail often concept underpins their agile practices.

In a dynamic and uncertain Fortnite battleground traditional hierarchical governance would see you ‘tapped’ before the first storm moved in. There is no time for protracted decisions and approvals to move vertically up the management chain. Devolved accountability and group decisions are the most appropriate approach for the squad. These self-managed, organised and empowered teams clearly understand their roles with clearly defined functions and processes.

Frequent Shouts of “how are you for mats?” and “does anyone have bandages?” highlights how the team quantifies their performance at any given moment within the game, openly sharing their success or failure to achieve success.

Underpinning this success is the frequent and trusted engagement they employ. Players communicate continuously throughout the game via a range of platforms collaborating, celebrating success and sharing insights.

In a world of social media, online gaming and smart devices, traditional bricks and mortar is an unnecessary hindrance to their relationship building process. Technology has shifted expectations with Gen Z. Video is how they communicate. Face-to-face interaction is no longer their first step to build rapport.

Our future workforce are far more comfortable operating in an agile environment, demonstrating by the following indicators:

  • Clear and shared Sense of Purpose
  • Flattened structures
  • Clear accountability and ownership
  • Empowered and dispersed teams
  • Transparent and trusted communication
  • Quick decision making
  • Fearless experimentation and acceptance that change is required

Certainly the public service is far more complex and requires more than an innate application of Fortnite skills to deliver sustainable outcomes. That said, considering how Fortnite delivers an agile model linking strategic outcomes to individual tasks, provides valuable insight.

The current workforce can enable the leaders of tomorrow by implementing these five steps.

  1. Build a culture that challenges us to embrace technology rather than view it as an enabler.
  2. Invest in technology to support collaboration and delivery on multiple virtual platforms not just physical office locations.
  3. Critically review the notion of vertical accountability and explore strategies to devolve responsibility and integrate accountability and ownership throughout the life cycle of a deliverable.
  4. Foster a culture where performance metrics are focussed around outcomes not outputs. And failure is not frowned upon.
  5. Challenge traditional methods of relationship building to craft trusted, adaptive and capable dispersed global teams, without the need to be physically present.

In the very near future, will you be ready to receive a resume that lists key achievements as “Developed strategy, lead a globally dispersed team and implemented agile governance to achieve the first victory royale”? By acknowledging the opportunities that Gen Z present and building culture and enablers that foster their strengths you will be ready to deliver efficient, lean and agile services.