Ranks have traditionally filled a guild's need to have some semblance of organization. You can't have your guild looking like a grade school soccer game, with everyone kicking the ball at the same time. But what often happens is that the ranks carry some unwritten powers that, real or perceived, become a distracting temptation.
As a result, members will do whatever they feel it takes to reach a higher rank. Recruits will play the role of selfless angel in order to get promoted to member. Sometimes, members will kiss up and cater to the leadership in order to get the coveted officer rank. And sometimes, officers will quietly lobby the ranks to plot a takeover and gain leadership. Instead of providing organization and team unity, ranks can often lead to rancorous division and an atmosphere of distrust.
That doesn't have to be, but how do you prevent it from happening?
Minimize their importance. It's a name, that's it. In Revelry and Honor, we use other names for some ranks -- we have leader, officer, and member, mainly to let new members know whom to seek out for help with forum access or guild questions. But our alts are called Llamabait, and retired players are called Meatloaf Tacos. Before that, they were Blueberry Pancake and Crushing on Romo. When you don't take rank names over-seriously, chances are members won't obsess about them as much.
Promote for the right reason. Of all the ranks, officer is the one that poses the greatest chance of causing drama. The problem with the officer rank is that it's sometimes misunderstood by members (and sometimes misused by guild leaders as well). Sometimes it's seen as a reward for a member's length of service in guild. I remember in the first year of leading a guild, I made the decision to promote one of our original members to the rank of officer. He was a great guy, loyal to the guild, and always helpful to others. But he wasn't a leader -- that just wasn't his personality. He was a positive voice in the guild, but he wasn't the type to rally members and lead the charge into battle. I was trying to show gratitude for his long service to the guild, but what I was actually doing was putting him in a role that just did not fit him. He was actually the one to approach me about it, less than a week after I promoted him, and asked to return to being a member. Luckily enough, he let me off the hook for my mistake, but I learned that you can't treat officer promotions as a Wal-mart style corporate ladder.
There should be a really good reason why someone is selected as an officer. When you're building a guild, officers are the people who handle the nuts and bolts of the everyday workings of the guild. They're the first points of contact for anyone outside the guild who has a question or a complaint. They update DKP logs, manage rosters, organize guild banks, and help maintain a nice atmosphere within the guild. The job itself is less than glamorous, and it's a wonder that anyone at all would actually want it!
Input should not be weighted by rank. Usually, the biggest problem with ranks is that those with a higher rank end up having a bigger voice when it comes to guild decisions and input. Obviously, there does have to be a leadership structure in place to make final decisions on the guild, but members should feel like they're an integral part of that process. Decisions might not always go the way members want it to, but they still should have the chance to be heard. If they're not, it leads to a lot of resentment towards those of a higher rank, and that isn't easily removed.
Show gratitude in other ways. The last time I appointed someone to the rank of officer, I did it at the beginning of a raid, and the announcement took about 30 seconds. I used to have ceremonies and big announcements when I named new officers and approved recruits, but that was also "back in the day" in EverQuest when we also used to sit on the beach in Oasis to conduct regular guild meetings. How times have changed!
I don't make a big deal anymore when it comes to promoting members and naming officers, but I do find other ways to show appreciation for my guildmates. Last year, we had a guild birthday party, and one contest involved guild trivia. Each member sent in questions about himself that others didn't know, and as we read them off and guessed the answers, people were amazed to learn who their guildmates really were. (And in a good way!) It was a great way for people to bask in the limelight for a bit, and it helped people appreciate each other a lot more.
Ranks can promote exclusivity, but they don't have to. The success we've had in Revelry and Honor has been because of the input and contributions from every single member. I avoid pulling rank, I encourage everyone to share ideas on how things should be done, and in the end, everyone puts trust in me to make the best decision that's the fairest for all. That's a lot of trust, and I don't dismiss it lightly. The upside is that everyone feels satisfaction in our progress, because everyone, regardless of rank, has ample opportunity to contribute to it.
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.