Promoting Culture Via Magic: The Gathering

August 7, 2018 Tanya Courtney

Written By: Matthew Thomason & Tanya Courtney

Tanya Courtney & Aris Zakinthinos playing Magic: The Gathering

Every company has their clubs, teams, and events which develop their culture. In a workplace there are many team building options to choose from. With increased participation every season in all departments, our Magic: The Gathering (MTG) league provides a little bit of every day magic for all 40+ Achievers that have played.

We have perspectives on our MTG league from Matt Thomason, Senior Software Developer and co-founder of the original league, and Tanya Courtney, Team Lead of Member Experience and current season league organizer.

Matt — “From the outset, we wanted as many people as possible to play in our MTG league. We wanted to try and emulate the casual setting of a pick-up soccer league, but with a bit more permeance to conduct tournaments. MTG is primarily a two-player game, so while individuals across the entire company are matched against each other, each game can be organized into a discrete event that players manage themselves. We settled on the following structure:

· League based play, with buy-in four times a year.

· Weekly matches, which are organized between the opponents playing.

Matches occur on demand, allowing people with rigid schedules to play at a time that works for them. This flexibility allows us to attract people from across our organization. One match a week allows people who are on call or on vacation to quickly catch up if they fall behind.”

Tanya — “The MTG community that we have established within Achievers is something I am proud to be a part of. As a female in the gaming community (table top, video games, etc.), I have experienced firsthand how scary and discouraging it can be. There is unfortunately, a large amount of sexism, prejudice, and unfairness towards females who try to participate, which has deterred me from associating with gaming groups many times. I was personally a bit scared when I decided to join our work league because I didn’t know how people would react to me based on my previous experiences; however, once I joined and got to playing with everyone, I was completely taken aback.

Achievers focuses on hiring not just talented individuals, but people of good character. This truly came to light for me when I joined the MTG league. Not one person showed any prejudice, disrespect, or harassment towards others. All I received were smiles, laughs, and new friends who I have fun with. This reflects Achievers’ hiring, and I truly believe that many companies can benefit from the same practice; wherein they not only hire individuals who fit the business needs but also those who positively contribute to company culture.

It honestly is truly special when you find something like our MTG league. In so many ways, it is more than just a work league — it is the prime definition of an all encouraging and welcoming community. Regardless of whether you have played MTG before or not, every single person is welcome to join our community and encouraged so long as they want to play! Because of this league, I have been able to meet so many more people in the company that I would not typically have the chance to, including the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and employees in other departments.”

Matt- One of the greatest successes of the MTG league is a product of its popularity. Due to the flexibility of the league structure, we have people from all over the organization participating. Though the bulk of our playgroup is Software Developers, we have people from Product, Sales, Technical Support, and Member Experience playing MTG. Personally, this has given me significant visibility in our organization.

Like most companies, we are given a high-level overview of all our different departments and how they interact with each other when we are hired; however, it is a much different experience once you actually communicate with those departments. MTG is an inherently social game, and because of the nature of my work (Backend Software, Systems Team), I’ve interacted with other teams much more through MTG then in my actual day-to-day job. Since Magic is a one-on-one game, it lends itself well to having chats during the game. Having casual chats and building cross-departmental friendships has definitely made me a better developer. It allows me to see potential business-related problems in tools I build before they go live and overall has helped me grow into a more well-rounded problem solver.”

Tanya— “The title of ‘Senior Leadership Team’ comes with a pretty heavy punch and a bunch of sirens no matter how you approach it. I feel as though the SLT is uncharted territory for most employees — the people you aspire to be but still feel intimidated to speak to. It is hard to find a company where employees interact on a social level with the SLT. Achievers, on the other hand, does a phenomenal job of creating a truly horizontal culture, which includes everyone under one umbrella. Because we have this culture, when our MTG league started it did not limit the community to the everyday employees. The league is for every Achiever including the SLT. Just like that, the uncharted territory was conquered.

As a Team Lead for the Member Experience department at Achievers, I do not have many opportunities to interact with people on the SLT most days, so when I joined the MTG league, I found myself surprised to see two members of the SLT in the community. It did not really hit me that I was a part of a community with SLT members until I was on the phone with my sister saying, ‘Today I played Aris who is the CTO at Achievers.’

Our MTG league provided an opportunity to make the ‘big and intimidating’ SLT much more approachable. Before I knew it, the term ‘Senior Leadership Team’ was not all that scary to me anymore. Playing MTG with two SLT members on such a friendly, down to earth level, fostered a bond and understanding. Now if I see one of them in the kitchen grabbing their morning cup of joe, we chit-chat about our recent matches. MTG has provided everyone in the community a chance to evolve our culture that much more.”

Matt- I believe the greatest value of our MTG league is how we can bridge different departments and organizational levels with a game that we all love. Through MTG, I think all of us have accelerated our professional growth by forging our personal connections with peers we otherwise may not have had the chance to connect with.

Tanya- I believe everyone who is a part of our MTG league can resonate with and agree that we are truly there for each other and are there to have fun. There is also nothing wrong with a little bit of friendly competition. I mean who wouldn’t want to have our wicked trophy on their desk?

Kaelen Proctor with our MTG Trophy: Former Architect, Software Development at Achievers

Promoting Culture Via Magic: The Gathering was originally published in Achievers Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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