Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Putting together a raid

Ah, the luxury of being in an established group! Raid invites start 15 minutes before 'first pull,' you joke around in /raid and vent, slot people into groups, and at least 12/27 people are in raid when raid time starts. You've done this before, you know your role. The Raid Leader calls a few instructions out on vent. As soon as everybody zones in, buffs go out and everyone is ready (and does so quickly after every wipe as well). Your group efficiently plows through the first bosses of ICC until reaching your current progression boss. Even there the process is effective: you review strats (that everybody has already watched on tankspot or youtube), get set up, and make your first pulls. From there, you make progress on most attempts, until the new boss bows to your combined might!

Too good to be true?

Well, a solid raid group may not be quite this idyllic, but in general, raids can be well-organized (and have been often enough in my experience) and be a pleasure to work with.

Flash to the Present.
I'm in the middle of putting together a 10-man group that is starting 'from the ground up' since we decided to move to a new night, dropping our main raiders' alts and allowing two nights to work on progression into heroic ICC10 (hereafter HICC10). This first week, we had no tank show up (and when he did, he went into a different groups' 10-man on his hunter), a healer's comp had blown up, and several dps that had indicated interest were missing. We had to pug a tank, a healer, and a dps, and have two players bring alts. I ended up tanking most of the night, switching to healing on my alt when the guild tank finally switched over. DPS was low, heals were spotty, and the tanks didn't know much beyond Saurfang (including myself with limited tank experience in ICC). We made some ill-fated attempts on heroic Marrowgar, and finally gave up on heroic modes except for gunship which only required two attempts (sad, I know, but those axe throwers DO hit hard if you let them enrage). We struggled to get to Putricide.
The second night was even worse. We had to re-pug another healer and dps (although the pug tank came back for a second night and performed competently), and 9-manned a number of attempts but never got Putri down.

I KNOW my group can get there - most of us (although a few Kingslayers were no-shows) have Lich King kills on 25- and 10- man ICC. My guild already has two 10-man groups deep into HICC10. So, how does it work?

Some of you may be familiar with Tuckman's influential work on group development. He's known for a 5-stage model that describes how groups come together and eventually are able to work on shared goals. Let's take a look.

Wikipedia has a nice concise article summarizing these stages as well, so I won't try to re-invent the wheel, but obviously in stage 1 the group comes together. The group forms around a common goal, but not much is known about each other, or how each will fit into the the team.
Despite the fact that the core of my HICC10 group are raiders I do 25-man with, there are members who are non-raiders or are non-guildies, or doing a slightly different role (I dps in 25-man, and little else. For our HICC10, I'm RL and organizing). We started Forming when discussing the need for two nights to work on progression, and different guildies posted their interest in the guild forums or via vent or /w.

Storming involves resolving conflicts in goals, how the group will proceed, and philosophy. It also means dealing with interpersonal difficulties that are likely to crop up between group members, early on. While some storming type behavior can occur throughout the life of the group, it's likely to occur most often shortly after forming.
A rather stressful and unsuccessful first week leaves our HICC10 still doing some Forming, but also Storming to resolve where we're at and how we're going to make the group work. I may need to replace the tank who said he'd be there, but essentially wasn't. In addition, the group's previous de factor RL didn't show at all, essentially abdicating the group's leadership to myself and another group member who is stepping in to help out. Decisions will have to be made as to how many chances guildie group members will get to drop in and out of group vs finding reliable non-guildies. Other decisions will include how many wipes to allow on heroic mode before switching to normal. Loot is a small issue in that it won't use dkp or epgp and master looter will only be used if group members appear to abuse need (unlikely). Still, this stage is uncomfortable, and I don't like being in it. :)

If the group makes it through the first two stages, some cohesiveness and positivity start to develop. Getting the same full group for two nights in a row, starting to kill bosses quickly and efficiently, working on a 'new' (hard mode) boss fight. The first 'real' heroic boss kill, and the norming stage arrives. There is a tendency for the group to enforce group expectations, like showing up on time, and who talks on vent, and how people are expected to bid on loot. If the Raid Leader tends to dissallow contributions or everyone is too passive, creativity may be stifled in this stage, leading to stagnation and undercurrents of dissatisfaction. My group's clearly not there yet - though I hope we will be soon.

The guild raids described at the top of this post illustrate a performing group, and they are a pleasure to be in! Yes, the group leaders are still 'in charge,' but their need to speak up or direct actions is minimal, and the group knows how they fit together and where they are going. They know their roles, and they know when/where their teammates will be.
A great example is doing TOGC Faction Champions. We get there, and we pretty much know who is charging in. The warlocks decide among themselves who is banishing the tree, the pally kicker already knows their job, healers set up fear wards/totems/etc, and not much needs to be said before the pull, but every Champion is controlled/interrupted/kited, and down they go shortly after.
This is, of course, the goal of any group. Good leadership is essential, but every member is valuable and plays an important role. I certainly hope to arrive there in the next few weeks as we solidify who's in it for the long haul and who is willing and capable to contribute to the group's success.

Tuckman later added a fifth stage to indicate the ending of the group. This may happen when all the goals are accomplished, or when members have to leave for one reason or another. When this happens there is likely to be a sense of loss and sadness.
In guilds this may happen when the leadership moves on and the group decides to dissolve instead of continue. Given the nature of guilds, most solid groups can absorb the loss of almost any raider but needs to be constantly aware of recruitment needs and be ready to find new members to fill any voids that are created. One never wants a good thing to end, but eventually, everything does.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the post as I reflect on my own incipient group's process, and I'll occasionally post our progress as we form/storm/norm/perform!