Team Leading

Posted in NEWS on January 13, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast

What is team leading?

At large events with many players and many judges, a team structure is often used to split up the judge staff into small task forces, referred to as teams. This allows the Head Judge to divide the tasks between those groups in such a way that every group is responsible for one aspect of the tournament. The most common way of dividing the staff into teams is the following:

  • One or two teams responsible for deck checks and counting deck lists; these are the Deck Checks teams
  • A team responsible for posting pairings and standings, as well as distributing result slips; this is the Paper team
  • A team to handle other things in the tournament, such as end-of-round procedure, preparing the draft setup, setting up table numbers, etc. If a task involves moving things around, the Logistics team is likely nearby!

Some events have other, specialized teams, which can be created by the Head Judge to match the specific needs of the event and the staff. One example is a Feature Match team.

Teams typically consist of three to six judges, although this is just a guideline. One of the team members functions as the team's leader; this is normally an experienced judge. The team leader is responsible for that team throughout the event. This includes coordinating the tasks, but it is really much broader than that, as outlined below.

So what does a team leader do?

The preparation

Usually, the HJ will inform the team leaders of their duties before the event. This means you should normally not be going into an event without knowing that you'll be leading a team of judges. Sometimes, if a schedule is available in advance, the team leaders will be given the names of their team members.

While the bulk of a team leader's job happens during the event, preparation is not unimportant.

If you know some of your team members, you might know what they need to work on. You can then think challenges that will help them advance. Even if you do not know in advance who will be in your team, it is a good idea to think up some interesting topics for discussion. This includes rules interactions and policy discussions, but can also be about something that is not related to judging, or perhaps not even related to Magic at all.

Figuring out a task schedule is the next challenge. Normally, the information that a team leader gets from the Head Judge is quite limited, since team leaders are, as experienced judges, expected to know how an event works and what should be done. Not everyone is able to auto-pilot through an event, of course, so this is where some preparation comes in. Asking yourself the following questions may help:

  • What will be your team's duties? What do the other teams do? Are there any jobs that aren't assigned to a specific team?
  • What materials will you need to carry out your duties and how will you get them?
  • When should each task be done and how much time will it take to do it?
  • How many judges will you need per task and how do you divide tasks to keep everyone occupied but not overworked?

Finally, a team leader is expected to have a team meeting at the start of the day. The contents of this meeting will depend greatly on how much detail the Head Judge puts into his or her judge briefing; It is also heavily dependent on the experience level of your judges. If you are at a Grand Prix, there will always be a few judges in your team working their first big event. Those judges will need more information about the difference between a small tournament back home and a big GP. If there are significant rules or policy changes and the Head Judge leaves it up to the team leaders to make sure everyone is up to speed about those, then that is one of your tasks as well.

Summing up, before you go to the event, there are three things you need to do if you're going to be a team leader:

  • Think of ways to keep your team busy during the event. This includes thinking of topics for discussion.
  • Have a basic timeline in your head. This timeline includes everything that happens in the tournament, including the responsibilities of the other teams with the focus on your own team's tasks.
  • Have a rough idea of what you're going to tell your team members in the initial team meeting. Depending on who is in your team this meeting may need to be quite detailed or it might be kept rather brief. It is usually best to prepare for the first scenario, since skipping parts is easier than adding them.

The event

Then it's time for the actual event! If you're well prepared, this will be a breeze. Or perhaps not . . . Team leading is a high pressure job that will require focus and commitment throughout a very long day. And sometimes, even the following day.

Your day usually starts after the general judge briefing. Your first task is to assemble your team and to run the team meeting. Remember that not everyone is equally experienced and, depending on the event and the location, not everyone may share the same native language. Be to the point in your briefing, and try to keep things interactive. Involving the team members in the meeting is a good way to do some team building. This is also why most team meetings start off with a short introduction of everyone involved.

During the event, you'll have your responsibilities to tend to. As a team leader, it is important that you assign tasks to your team members. Ensure that everyone understands what he or she should do (and how to do it!) and your role as supervisor will be a lot easier. Do not fall for the trap of doing things yourself. Trust your judges and provide help if they need it, but do not get caught up with doing all the work yourself. Doing everything yourself will make you lose track of the big picture, and that will make your team seem like a Mindless Automaton. Additionally, your team members will feel bad because you seem to think that they cannot be trusted with their job. Give them a chance to shine!

An important task of a team leader is to take care of his or her judges during the event. This means making sure that everyone is having a good time, but also that everyone is healthy and fed. Staying hydrated is extremely important during long and exhausting events, and as team leader you should keep an eye out for your judges. Also, every judge should get a proper lunch break. Coordinate these breaks with the other team leaders, so that floor coverage is not suffering too much due to the absence of judges who are on a break.

Beside the relatively long lunch break, advise and allow your team members to take short breaks throughout the day. Especially during the later rounds, this is important because it is hard to stay focused all day long. Remind your judges that you prefer them sharp and alert thanks to a few short breaks over having them on the floor the entire day but unfocused before the event is halfway.

As mentioned in the section concerning preparation, keeping your judges occupied with interesting discussions is an important aspect of team leading. Judges travel from afar to work at large events and it is important that they take something home to share with their local community. Sharing knowledge and experience, and providing feedback and training, form the very foundation of the judge program. Large events give excellent opportunities to spread this knowledge and experience to different areas around the world. By providing interesting discussion topics, you're encouraging this.

Team meetings are a great time to start and wrap up these discussions. They are also important to keep the spirits up. Your team will need motivation during the later rounds; having team meetings where you inspire your judges to stay sharp will help you achieve this. You don't need to have one every round and you don't need to formally sit down somewhere if you can also just gather around for a quick chat at the end of the round. As long as you have people talking to each other and doing their jobs, things are running smooth. If not, a more formal meeting may be needed.

This brings us to the final point: team building. A good team leader makes his judges feel connected as a team. At the end of the day, every judge in the team should know every other judge a bit better. Ideally, people are making new friends they'll stay in contact with or they'll be happy to see them again at future events. As a team leader, you will see that a lot of the interaction between two judges individually is out of your hands. That said, you can (and should!) do your best to create a positive group feeling that will encourage these interactions.

The aftermath

While the event might be done for the day, your job as team leader is not done yet!

First of all, you need to run a short team debriefing to wrap things up. Announce to your team members what went good and what could have gone better. If you're happy with the team's performance, be sure to get that message passed along in a clear way. In any case, thank all your team members for their efforts and remind them to think about reviews.

Yes, reviews. As team leader, you should try to do more reviews than usual. You may not be able to give everyone a full review, but talking to all your judges at some point to give them some feedback is definitely something you should do. As said before, the process of training and feedback forms the foundation of the judge program, so this is important.

What makes a good team leader?

Of course the first thing that a team leader has to strive for is getting the job done. If you're new to team leading, this will absorb most of your time and focus. As you gain experience as a team leader, however, you'll be able to do a lot more for your team.

Main focus

First of all the team leader, much like a true Field Marshal , needs to make sure that everybody in the team knows what they're doing. Explaining all the tasks that lie ahead is usually the first thing that helps you steer your team into the right direction. Normally, the head judge will give you some more specific instructions if there's something that needs your attention. (An excellent team leader will already have covered those issues before the head judge even brings them up.)

An experienced team leader will be able to auto-pilot the tasks that his or her team needs to tackle. Therefore he or she will have more time to focus on coordination, team building, and mentoring.


There are quite a few things that need to be coordinated when you're a team leader. As said the main focus is on coordinating the tasks within your team, but there are also things that need to be coordinated between different teams.

For starters there are the lunch breaks (and possibly dinner breaks). The best time to coordinate lunch breaks is during one of the first team leader meetings. The earlier these breaks are set, the better. The head judge will not always organize a team leader briefing immediately after the tournament starts, and does not necessarily need to be involved in coming up with the break schedule, so show some initiative in getting this fixed!

Another issue is floor coverage. As a team leader, try to make sure that players are being helped swiftly. Coordinating floor coverage with other teams is important; one way is to split up the floor in a few areas. Take into account that floor coverage requirements will change over the course of the day.

Some tasks will require a combined effort from multiple teams: setting up the area to draft at the Pro Tour or Nationals is one example. Successful completion of this genre of tasks requires coordination between teams. The best way to organize this is obviously through the different team leaders, where, generally, the Logistics team leader will take point.

Finally, there will always be things that come up unexpectedly. To be able to handle these challenges, it is important that you're visibly available. Availability ensures that your team members and other team leaders will be able to easily contact you for anything they might want to ask you. You should also appoint someone to be your replacement when you're not available, because eventually even you will need to take a break as well. Be sure that your team and the other team leaders know who this is!

Team building

One the most important goals for a team leader, next to getting the job done and keeping up communication between the teams, is to make your team actually feel and act like a team, not just a bunch of individuals. Team Spirit!

One commonly used team building activity is giving the team an assignment unrelated to the event that causes discussion within the team. Some examples are:

  • If you were booking the locations for the next Pro Tour season, which locations would you book? (1 North American, 1 European, 1 Asian and 1 Exotic location.)
  • If you would be the President of the DCI and you could change 1 rule in the rulebook, which one would it be and why?
  • If you would be head of R&D for the next Magic expansion, which new mechanic would you come up with?

Another instrument you could use is making pairs within your team, where each judge is assigned a "buddy." Using this system will make the judges paired up get to know each other much better, but it doesn't necessarily make the whole team come closer together. This will only happen if you steer it that way.

Games are another great tool. Judges are usually Magic players too, and Magic players are typically quite competitive. Having a team game going on in a tournament can be a tremendous help to build your team. Be aware however that you don't shift the focus away from the tournament towards the game too much; we don't want judges to be preoccupied with the game instead of working the event!


The last step in becoming a good team leader is mentorship. Being a mentor for your team ensures that all of the team members will have gained some experience from the event that they can apply in their local community.

One well-known tool is shadowing. The buddy system is a great way of ensuring people are shadowing each other, but even without it, shadowing rulings is a great way to be able to provide feedback after the event.

The discussions that you've fired off during your team meetings are another way to provide mentoring to your team. Sometimes this will be a discussion of an interesting situation that happened at the event. Other times, you'll have thought of an interesting policy topic and given your team some food for thought that way. Be sure to have these discussions and to steer the team in those discussions. Let your judges do most of the talking, but be prepared to give your own opinion (and preferably also the by-the-book solution, if it exists).

Mentoring can also come from sharing stories from personal experiences. If you've had a particularly interesting situation at a previous event, you can share that story with your team; there doesn't always need to be a full-scale discussion if you can bring your point across in a story. That said, be open for questions afterwards!

There are many more techniques, most of which are useful in some scenarios and less so in others. To give an example: if you're working with a L2 who's thinking about going for L3, try to keep him or her close by, ask for his or her input when you have the time, and most importantly, explain your decisions: why are you doing something in a certain way? Conversely, if there is a new L1 in your team who is working his or her first big event, make sure you check up regularly and explain what is going on in the event and what to look out for at any given time. Walking this judge through the event step by step by giving guidance and tips will be a tremendous help for him or her. Basically, it is important to adapt your mentoring technique to the needs of the one receiving it.

Wrapping up

Team leading is always a challenge, no matter how experienced you are at it. At the same time, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs at an event. We hope this article has provided you with some tips and tricks for the next time you're going to be leading a team of judges at a large event!

Richard Drijvers and Jurgen Baert