Various organizations have for decades now been moving away from the traditional model of hierarchy. The basic idea is that instead we want autonomous teams, which work together to achieve goals versus the old model of having groups of people performing individual tasks.
How do we achive this? We share leadership.
Before delving any deeper here, I would like to make a few distinctions.
First, we call the groups of people with play with our gamng… well, groups. That’s fine when we are talking about boardgames, but in groups the members have individual goals. Everyone is responsible for themselves and while they do come together to accomplish a task at times, the members don’t internalize a common vision. Groups that come together usually rely on an outside authority to form them and delegate tasks.
Teams, on the other hand, have a common vision. The decision making is communal and while different members have different roles, responsibility is shared among all members. Teammembers complement each other nicely and can minimize their faults and maximize their potential through collectively and proactively working towards their common goal. Teams often share information and teach each other in order to reach their goals. Teams are also excellent learning environments because of this.
In general, I think in an RPG we want more of a team environment than a group one.
Second, there’s a difference between the players and characters working together as a team. Players working together can produce interesting and unique stories of conflicts between characters. Characters truly working as a team does require the players working as a team as well.
Okay, so teams need to make decisions together to work towards a common goal. This doesn’t mean that the GM should not have any say, but it does change the role quite a bit. The GM role turns more into facilitating the process than full control, as well as being responsible for forming and communicating the common vision. All members of the team take part in this, but the GM sees to it that the vision is understood by everybody.
But this is about players, not the GM. The players need to subscribe to the common vision. If they do that, they don’t need the GM guidance, as long as they act according to that vision. If they have internalized the vision, they’ll know what they are supposed to do to achieve the common goal.
Now, this isn’t supposed to be too predictable as the common vision should have plenty of room variety. This shouldn’t be about predicting what the GM wants, but more about making things interesting for everyone, including the GM. If the team learns enough about the world together, each member knows how to incorporate their ideas into the whole and build on the ideas of the other members.
Now, this might not come easy, as building a team is not simple, but that’s a subject for another day.
One particular kind of leadership people often look for in GM is pacing. Many styles of play assume that the GM is responsible for pacing and in general the amusement of everyone, possibly including themselves, but often not.