If there's one question that a guild leader should never ask, it's that one. Don't get me wrong; I believe feedback is an essential part of running a successful guild. But there's a right and a wrong way to solicit it, and having the equivalent of a "suggestion box" is not the best way to get the feedback you need.
In today's Guild Counsel, let's look at how the concept of a suggestion box (or holding open-ended discussions for player feedback) can make guild leadership difficult. And we'll look at some ways to get the suggestions you need to keep things running smoothly in guild.
More than you asked for
If you ever want a laugh, ask a classroom full of kids whether they have any questions. A few hands will go up with real questions, but then a hand will go up with a story about Sally's pet bunny, followed by a long tale about how Uncle Frank's barbecue grill exploded, and next thing you know, it's story time for the next half hour.
I'm sure there's some psychology that explains it, but whenever you put a roomful of people together and ask for suggestions or ideas, you're likely to get so many suggestions that it seems like people are tossing things out just to hear themselves talk. The problem with allowing open-ended suggestions is the potential for information overload. Somewhere in there are some helpful ideas, but good luck trying to comb them out of the tangled mess.
When it comes to guild feedback, there are an endless number of issues that can come up. Some are more cut-and-dried, like improving performance on guild raids or keeping the bank tidy and well-managed. The more complicated ones, like personal differences within the guild, are harder to manage, and while you will get plenty of opinions on how to handle it, they might not be the best suggestions. Emotions, resentment, and ulterior motives can sometimes cloud the picture and make it difficult to sort things through and put player feedback to good use.
Be careful what you wish for
The flipside to the suggestion box is that you might get suggestions you don't necessarily like. Players might suggest changes that are diametrically opposed to your principles and vision for the guild. You're now boxed into a corner, and you are now stuck with the choice of either implementing change you aren't comfortable with or vetoing it and opening the door for drama.
Even if it's well-intentioned, there's a certain amount of laziness involved in saying, "Give me suggestions," and then stepping back and waiting for replies. It doesn't feel sincere, and it can cause resentment among the players. The last thing you want is to look like the boss from Office Space -- sauntering around the office with coffee cup in hand, overseeing the office but doing little to improve it. If you ask for suggestions and then fail to implement them, you run the risk of losing credibility, which can cause drama later on.
Another problem is that soliciting suggestions and ideas in an open-ended fashion might not get you the feedback you need. There are plenty of players who have great ideas but will choose not to volunteer them either because they don't have faith they'll be taken into consideration or because they aren't comfortable stepping forward to speak up. If you ask for suggestions, you will undoubtedly get replies, but you might not be hearing from the very players you need to hear the most.
Your feedback is appreciated
Still, you can solicit feedback, and in fact, you should. First, do it privately. Very few people actually enjoy sitting around in a guild meeting sharing opinions in front of everyone, and those who do enjoy it usually aren't the ones you necessarily want to hear from. Pull members aside at the appropriate time and seek their thoughts on things. You don't need to ask every single member, but you should try to find people who can offer fair and impartial suggestions. Your top DPSer might be the best person to offer ideas on how to improve guild output. An even-handed officer might be able to share insight into how to manage a conflict between two guild members. In fact, officers are usually the best people to turn to, and you should have enough trust in them to allow them to speak freely, even if they offer criticism of your leadership.
Being proactive in seeking out suggestions from a sample of the guild has many benefits. First, it shows that you took the extra step of reaching out and hearing members' thoughts. Second, it helps build trust because members can see that you're concerned with the well-being of the guild and that you want as much insight as possible into making the best decision. Lastly, it creates a nice avenue of communication, and hopefully, members will feel comfortable coming to you with sincere ideas.
As a guild leader, it's hard to manage feedback. At times, it can seem as if you're getting a mountain of opinions, while other times, it seems as if you're suffering from an input drought when you need feedback the most. And while it's hard to hear criticism, you also don't want members to constantly give a smiley-thumbs-up in approval of everything you do because no one's perfect. It might be tempting to create an in-game version of the suggestion box, but it's often better to solicit feedback on specific issues from a selection of members who can best offer ideas. Hopefully, the suggestions you get will help you run a smoother (and happier) guild.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.