Managing Werewolves

by Michael Lopp

25 Reader Comments

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  1. I’m in agreement with Kevin Potts, this article needs some sort of follow-up on actual implementation of the Werewolf theory of project management. Not enough connection to concrete reality, for me.

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  2. I usually like A List Apart’s articles (even if I don’t understand some of the more technical ones), but it feels like someone got ahold of this one specifically to promote their party game in an exciting way, with some vague unrealized promise of tying it into a “working with other people in a collaborative environment” article.  While the game certainly has its psychological appeal, and at its core, reading the mood and analyzing why people say what they do has relevance, the metaphor of “don’t let the monsters win” stays quite literally “don’t let the monsters win”. And what is “winning” or “death”? They’re discussed as tangible, immovable final results, when in my experience, nothing in web design is set in stone forever.  The whole metaphor is treated with such stark gravity and dramatic flourish that it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something very exciting in my mostly-civil, compromise-friendly profession.

    I’ll echo those before me to say that while I’ve met manipulative people, I haven’t been in any lynch-mob-meetings, and I certainly wouldn’t I say I’m “paid to play a real-life version of this horrific game every day”.

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  3. Having moderated several hours’ worth of gameplay last year with Michael around the table, I can confirm that he’s a fine werewolf player.

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  4. Boy, am I glad I don’t work for you!

    If you eye your team with suspicion, expecting that there are werewolves among them, then invariably, you’re going to see werewolves—and then make things worse when you try to kill them.

    If you have werewolves on your team, then chances are, you’re the alpha.

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  5. Great article! I’ve been playing this game quite a long time now with friends, and being a communication skills trainer, I use this game in my training sessions. Clients are REALLY very enthusiastic about it and it’s a great activity to play in the evening program of multiple-day sessions. I added some moderations to it to address especially presentation skills, convincing skills and social sensitivity/ awareness. It’s totally fun and very useful at the same time.

    Some comment on mr Kevin Potts:  “The hard part is managing the good people with the bad. I have my own methods (fire them), but sometimes it’s not always that easy.”

    - spoken like a true Werewolf!  ;-)

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  6. I’ve played werewolf with Jane and Michael.  I got killed early because I was too quiet.  Twice.

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  7. But in the workplace, it’s often better NOT to cry werewolf.

    But believe me they’re there. They may only show their faces in a full moon (i.e. high stress situation), but I believe every group of people has a hierarchy and pecking order, and usually it goes unstated.

    That’s how you keep your villagers asleep long enough to eat them.

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  8. (look that up somewhere…)

    Yes, it is the game called Mafia described in Wikipedia. It’s something that a group of people at W3C play a lot too – unsurprisingly, because working in a group of people with declared intentions (make a great standard for the world) and undeclared intentions (make their company rich, make their patent more valuable, destroy the patent system and the free world, ensure that PonyML never gets finished so that the proprietary DonkeyML wins in the marketplace, etc etc) is a lot like playing werewolf.

    Managing people on the assumption that some of them are werewolves is misinterpreting the game.

    What it teaches you to do is work with people and think carefully about both the motivations they tell you about (“I want a promotion”, “I want to transfer to another group”) and the ones they don’t (“I want to spend more time away from home”, “I don’t like working for you and want a new manager”).

    It also teaches you that your intuitions are just that – nobody is infallibly good at judging people – even people they know very well, although it is clearly easier than with people you hardly know. Which in turn leads to important balances of trust, self-doubt and decision-making…

    In the context of a game, where the goal is the survival of the village (or the werewolves) and not the individual, it also teaches you about sacrifice, and how to decide whether it is worthwhile – because sometimes it is, and sometimes it is just glorious and pointless.

    And of course it can show you things about the way other people think and work in a group – not hard-and-fast reliable things becaus it is a game, and more so because it can be gamed if you are using it in a formal context. But Not entirely useless stuff either.

    The level of actual fun depends on the context, on the players (some people can make anything seem like an inquisition or an endless unplanned and pointless meeting) and on the moderator. It also depends on the fall of the cards. Some people make great werewolves, or seers, and the game becomes far more interesting. Is there anything worse than knowing your “lover”, whom you always have to protect, is in fact a werewolf? Yes – holding the double vote of the Mayor, as well…

    And it’s a social way to spend an evening (has anyone ever played it in the morning?) that can be as interesting for people to watch even if they hate playing. This happens to some of the quiet ones especially.

    Because it’s true, they are more expendable even if they are not werewolves – a team game requires a team effort.

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  9. I’ve never heard of this game before, but it sounds pretty interesting.  I’ll have to give it a try some time. 

    Office politics can be really unpleasant and complicated, especially when your agenda (and we all have one, even if it’s just to do the best work we can) goes against the agendas of most of your coworkers and supervisors (which I’m thinking is how the werewolf game relates to office politics). 

    This article actually gave me a little bit of insight into the conflicts I’ve had in previous positions.  Thanks!

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  10. I feel that this article seems to be mirror of my life. I myself doesn’t know whether I was a werewolf or the good farmer. I believe most of the human beings on this earth are in the same way.

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  11. I don’t think it’s a problem to draw parallels from anywhere in life. It simply gives others an insight into the way you view bigger pictures.
    I’m glad for metaphors.
    However, I really hope I can get by being a lowly villager. Not lowly in stature, but honest, real and optimistic.
    Ah, who am I kidding. I’m stocking up on silver bullets…

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  12. Sounds like a great way to develop social tools. Knowing how to identify the bad guys, and how to be the bad guy, is a great tool in arming yourself against the people in life who would exploit you. Forget office politics; everywhere in life there are cutthroats who will scalp you for a dime if you let them. From car dealerships to politicians, arming yourself with the ability to know when they’re lying, what they’re lying about, what their motivations and interests are, and making an educated guess at the truth is the key to looking out for number one without being a werewolf yourself.

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  13. What a strange sensation to read the first paragraphs of this article and then find out that it was just a game. It describes a real life work environment I experienced. There was only one werewolf, but the whole environment became tainted and antagonistic because of it. The interesting thing was that the person causing the problem wasn’t officially a manager, but was allowed to wreck havoc the management, who didn’t know how to deal with the problem. In any organization, it’s the job of management to weed out the werewolves before they devour the rest of the staff.

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  14. I never have had heard of this game before.
    Suggest I have to play it once?

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  15. The werewolf game is actually quite popular in Korea, known as “Mafia” where the werewolves are mafia, the seers are cops, and the villagers are citizens, with identical rules (except for the mooing or the brains). Never connected it with the work environment but in hindsight it is giving me valuable feedback on how I react in a crisis. It might not be a good team building exercise though, cause although its good at getting to know each other, you might not see a person the same way ever again ;-)

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