In my recent post about letting people die I talked about working with other healers as a part of the mental prioritisation process we go through.
In the comments, Everblue pointed out that having a healing team with mutual trust, knowledge of each other’s role, and enough awareness to cover for each other without overhealing is the “holy grail of raid leading”, and wondered how to create that understanding.
Well, I can’t claim to have all the answers by a long stretch, and I don’t even think I’m part of such a team at the moment, but I’ve felt something closer to it in the past. So, here’s some thoughts from me for raid leaders or guild leaders looking to build a more cohesive healing team.
I should say that, while I don’t think you can necessarily create situational awareness, you can engender an interest and cooperation between team-mates which will get you a long way towards the ideal as described by Everblue.
It would also be great to read what other people think on this subject.
Back to basics, but if you want a strong team you need to create an atmosphere of communication and information flow. So if you don’t have one already create a healers-only channel and invite your healers into it, and if your guild is one which uses forums try and get some role-specific forums created as well.
The healing channel
The purpose of the channel is two-fold: firstly you can use it to set up and discuss assignments, so everyone knows what’s going on. If it’s in a separate channel people can pull it out into a separate chat frame to keep it prominent, or give it a different colour to help prevent it getting lost in the rest of raid chat.
The second purpose of the channel is to allow discussion of how that last attempt went, if someone is feeling overstretched on the one hand or even underworked on the other, then the assignments can be tweaked, for example.
Here’s the first big tip I’ll give: keep the channel for healers only and don’t allow intrusions. There’s nothing will get people’s backs up like being told what to do by a non-healer.
I know how tempting it is as a raid leader to try and eavesdrop on every role channel, and that’s not incompatible with this idea, but if you want a properly free and frank discussion you will have to take a back seat. Every time you make a comment, you remind people you’re there, and this might not be the best way to promote discussion.
Healers in particular can be quite sensitive types, and actually it can be quite a big step to admit you need help with something, so don’t be an overbearing raid leader.
If you’re the raid leader and a healer as well, you’ll definitely need to be in the channel, but try and keep your involvement to a minimum. Ideas from authority figures, even in a game context, are harder to argue with. On the whole though I think a healer raid leader actually has a head start, because you’ll understand what motivates the healers, which can help with trust.
However, the healing team will need to communicate with the rest of the raid from time to time, which is where suggestion number two comes in: consider nominating a “healing lead”. Now I know some guilds don’t like the idea of the extra layer of hierarchy that class or role leads provides, and I’m not talking about another guild rank, just a sort of spokesperson who can liaise with the raid leader or other role leaders to pass information around. This lets everyone’s voice be heard, without needing to stick their neck out personally if they don’t feel confident.
It might be a regular, well-liked healer, it might be the theorycrafting nut, it might be the chatty one, but someone will most likely fall into this role. Let the healers choose their “champion” rather than it automatically be the officer who happens to be a healer.
Perhaps the healing lead could set up the assignments too. It’s always better to be assigned by someone who knows you better as an individual.
Just as the in-game chat channels are great for discussing the immediate events during a raid, forums can be a place for more distilled reflections on assignments, roles and strategies.
As an officer or raid leader, you could perhaps try seeding discussions by posting template healing assignments for the fights you’re currently working on, and asking for suggestions. Or perhaps asking questions relevant to a healing alt, which can spark discussions. Some of the best class discussions I’ve seen have come from this sort of start, and the key here is to get people posting and building up their confidence.
You could go both ways on making the role forums private to the roles in question or open to the guild, but I’d probably suggest keeping them open, to allow the discussion to be a bit more open and to keep the discussions useful as a resource for everyone’s reference. Questions from non-healers on the forums are less likely to provoke negative or defensive reactions on forums compared to in the heat of a progression night.
Clearly, the success of this one will depend strongly on how active your members are on the forums, so exercise some judgement on this one.
Final point here: if you’re the raid leader or an officer, be sure to publicly notice and appreciate the discussions that take place. To take criticism is to expose a little vulnerability, so some positive feedback will be invaluable; just don’t go so far as to be patronising, people can spot insincerity a mile away.
I touched on this one earlier when I advised keeping non-healers out of the healing channel, but I want to return to it because it’s so important: don’t refer to healing meters and don’t point fingers at individuals.
First and foremost, healing is a team effort. Someone has to be bottom of the meters, and who that is is likely to depend strongly on the fight and the team composition. Not to mention the fact that healers make many more valid contributions than just their healing output: dispels, buffs, defensive cooldowns, and more.
Linking meters fails to capture the full contribution of individual healers, and can risk characterising your healing team as a set of individuals instead of a single team. Friendly competition is one thing (I used to compete with a fellow priest to get the lowest overheal, back in SSC when it mattered) but generally healer competition is counter-productive, so any signs of it should be strongly discouraged.
But what if something actually went wrong? The tank died, for example. Surely it’s the tank healers’ fault? Maybe.
Maybe the fault is with the assignments and not enough people were assigned to tank healing. In which case the tank healers may have done their jobs perfectly well but not been able to keep up anyway.
Maybe someone just made a mistake. Nine times out of ten they know about it already. It happens from time to time, you pick the wrong person or the wrong spell, you’re on GCD just as the Impale is landing, whatever. For healers the feedback tends to be immediate and very visible, so pointing it out publicly serves no real purpose, and is quite likely to just knock the confidence of the healer in question.
Or maybe the tank should have used a cooldown, or called for one, and actually it’s their “fault”.
In any case, the point is that generally healers know when something didn’t go right, and pointing it out doesn’t really help. It’s far better to ask them collectively what went wrong and get a discussion going. If people feel safe in their environment, preferably that private channel, then they should (eventually) be able to admit they messed something up, or ask for extra help on a target, or even request a different assignment to make them feel more comfortable.
This will become a recurring theme, but early on people may be reluctant to answer these questions immediately, so take one for the team. Point out where you can see a way for you to improve (yes, there will be something, unless you’re in Paragon, and probably even then) and volunteer that. Model the behaviour and show that you’re comfortable trusting them, and in time that trust will be returned.
The other aspect of this “post mortem” is to focus less on what went wrong, and more on what will be done about it in order to win next time. Keep the discussion focused less on who failed and more on what’s needed. For example, if we’re analysing our tank death, move the discussion quickly on from “not enough healing” to thinking about assigning an extra healer or asking tanks for cooldowns.
Take an interest
You can set up the environment all you like, but if you want to get your healers working together, you need to generate some rapport as well. This might be something you do as a raid leader/officer, or you might leave it to the healing lead. I’d suggest a bit of both: if your raiders feel you care about them as individuals, they’re more likely to believe you’ll listen to them and actually value their contributions.
At this point I’ll link out to a post by Tamarind about the culture of “my door’s always open!” and why you need to go a bit further than that in reality. There’s some good nuggets in that post for anyone trying to foster a more open atmosphere.
The short version is that if you want to know something, just ask the question, don’t automatically expect people will volunteer it. And as I’ve mentioned above, if you’re asking people to lower their guard, be prepared to lower yours first.
In raids, ask how people found that assignment. Ask them what they prefer to do. Outside raids, ask them how they’re doing, and take an interest in them as a person. And again, share your own personality, preferences and your shortcomings. This is sound advice for a leader in any capacity, but if you’re actively trying to get people out of their shells and feeling comfortable, you need to make a special effort.
All in all, your healing team needs a level of mutual respect, which can only arise when the person behind the character feels valued and feels that they know something about their colleagues as well. It needs to be truly a two-way street.
This is probably best left for a later stage, because opening with this might put people on the defensive and could well be a backwards step. But once you’ve got your healers to a point where they’ve got a safe space and they’re talking to each other and communicating to the raid as a whole, and there’s no undue blame coming their way, you might be at the point where they can begin to criticise each other, constructively and gently, but always by consent.
I know everyone says on their guild apps that they appreciate constructive criticism, but not everyone is quite as ready for it as others. So perhaps put yourself on the line first. People will probably be hesitant to criticise you, and might become defensive if you criticise them, but nothing’s stopping you criticising yourself, laying yourself (metaphorically) bare and modelling how feedback can be constructive and positively-phrased.
Or you could try another approach and post links to blog posts, forum threads and or other information sources, noting how they’ve helped you to improve some aspect of your play. This also allows you to demonstrate that you’re not setting yourself up as knowing everything, that there’s always room for everyone to improve, and it also lets you provide convenient links that people might follow, rather than needing to start their own research from scratch (there’s a lot of WoW information out there, it can be daunting!).
The other thing you might consider, which may or may not be a step too far, is routinely posting links to WoL parses for raids, and allowing discussions on that basis. You’ll usually have a few analytical types in your guild who will find it interesting to go through logs and pull out interesting statistics or find some pattern that you might not have noticed.
You’ll need to be very clear that any references to “beating” others on meters, general epeening or anything else non-constructive will be moderated (and actually follow up on this). You’ll probably get a bit of that, but when it’s routine people will get bored quickly.
The thing is, by publicising things like blogs or WoL parses, you’re making it easier for people to access real examples of others in their role or class, which can make them think and question for themselves. You don’t need to point everything out to people, they’re are always more likely to value and believe what they’ve discovered for themselves.
Once you’ve got to this point, you should (hopefully) have healers who are able to refine their own healing assignments, understand each other to some degree, and with discussions of playstyles beginning to emerge you can see how healers can then begin to predict each other’s actions in a raid situation.
So, you’ve herded all your healers into their own channel (and evicted the mischievous warlock that tried to sneak in, there’s always one), you might have got yourself a healing spokesperson; you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t care about the meters and you’re being very careful to ask the healers if they think they could improve the raid’s situation or how the raid could help them, or what they feel about the assignments and their role; you might have them constructively criticising themselves and others; and you’re taking an interest in them as people, respecting their contributions and personalities and with general respect all round.
What else is there?
Well, it all takes work. Keep plugging away at it, keep encouraging, prompting, supporting the positive behaviours, and moderating discussions if they drift in undesirable directions. And help new joiners to understand how things work and make them feel welcome and comfortable and as unthreatened as possible.
The key points I wanted to raise are the following:
- Get your healers some safe space – a custom channel at least – and keep it for healers only
- Allow people to speak their minds. Value their opinions, but keep your own out!
- Avoid pointing fingers; instead, try asking what went wrong, what would help things go better
- Find out about your healers’ personalities and preferences and actually value them
- Always be honest and sincere. The best leaders can always find something genuinely positive to say, so don’t be tempted to fake it, people will tell and there goes your mutual respect
- If the atmosphere is conducive to it, begin to encourage constructive criticism
- Always model the behaviours you want to encourage. If you want people to analyse their own performance, hold your own up to examination first. If you want people to ask for help with assignments, let people know when you’re having difficulties as well.
- Your work is never done, so keep up the encouragement and support
Hopefully some of these tips will be useful. Remember that this is only one perspective, and guilds and raiders are all unique and have their own quirks and preferences, so as with any advice you should adapt it to suit your situation and constantly evaluate it to see if it’s still relevant.
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