How to lead innovative teams: learnings from the game industry

In September the city of Helsinki hosted the first European conference dedicated to leadership in the game industry. Speaker track of the Leadership day consisted of seven game industry professionals sharing their views and ideology around leadership and company culture. This article and it’s examples are based on the My D.N.A handbook for Teams (Do Not Assume -guide for teams), talk by Sophie Vo.

Author: Ria Gynther

Leadership day by IGDA Finland

The capital region is the heart of Finnish game industry: 46% of the Finnish game companies are located in the area, this means there are about 80 different companies, 1600 employees and an annual turnover of 1,7 billion euros (Neogames 2019). So it is no wonder that IGDA Finland chose this as the location for the very first Leadership day. IGDA Finland is a local chapter of the International Game Developers Association and they have 13 hubs around the country. Newest hub was established in the spring of 2019 to Lahti.

Image 1. Sophie Vo shared her experiences and expertise with the audience of the Leadership day. (Image: Ria Gynther)

D.N.A of a successful game team

Sophie Vo from German mobile game company Voodoo talked about the D.N.A handbook she has gathered from the learning during her career. Vo has worked over a decade with F2P mobile games in different European companies, including Rovio, and her passion and expertise is in building high-performing creative teams. In the beginning of her talk, and the handbook, Vo shared her learnings with others on how innovative and successful teams design games. Vo’s presentation included practical tips on how to use data, how to listen the players, how to iterate game ideas, when to create new and when to reuse. Vo also shared in detail what she has learned about building and supporting a world class game development teams.

Leading a diverse team

It is shown in different studies that diverse teams act and think differently than teams that are homogenous. Working in a diverse team is not always a picnic and working with people who are different from yourself can feel more laborious than working with people familiar to you. This is partly true, when you work with different viewpoints you have to work harder, take more time to weigh different opinions and make better arguments. When you work harder you might also make better decisions, and there are clear indicators that diverse teams get better results and actually work more effectively than homogeneous teams. (Rock et al. 2016.)

Image 2. Diversity is not always easy, but it can lead to success. (Image: Pixabay (CC0))

In the game industry teams are formed of people with different skills, genders, races, cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking. In Finland 27% of workforce come from abroad and 20% are women (Neogames 2019). Vo has also noticed this in her work and she strongly believes that this is one key factor that enables radical innovation but it’s also a factor a leader needs to take into account when building the team dynamic. Differences might also lead into conflicts, not all conflicts are bad but when conflicts are about differences in values rather than opinions there are bigger problems at hand (Rock et al. 2016).

According to Vo, to avoid this you need to know each other and also have trust; you need to trust yourself and you need your team to trust you. Trust is usually build by time and according to Vo’s own experience it is important to spend time with new team, get to know each other and even have fun together. Once the trust is build and you know each other you can move to the real work and achieve the big goals. Studies strongly support Vo’s statement, it seems that diversity is only an asset when there is also a good team spirit and the feeling of inclusion present (Rock et al. 2016).

Trust, respect and care

One important role of a leader is also to clearly communicate what is expected of the team and what are the values, mission and ways of working. You need to know where you are heading but it’s also important to share common vision on how this is achieved. Vo believes that key to good team dynamics is in respecting each other, knowing each other and in caring about each other. When these are combined with trust your team has good spirit and even the difficult decisions and talks are, if not easier, more manageable. In a healthy team it is okay to ask why and respectfully talk about different viewpoints, to challenges others and itself and in the end achieve something that just might be the next big hit.

Meeting, do we really need them?

Vo also shared her visions and everyday examples on how to lead teams and how important it is to value clarity, structural thinking and communication over processes. One example of this, is that Vo does not want her team to spend their time in useless meetings so at Voodo they have minimum amount of them. Before any meeting is scheduled the need for it is always evaluated beforehand: is it possible to solve the issue in some other way, do we really need more than two people to fix this and if yes, who really needs to take part in it.

Image 3. No phones, clear agenda, right people in the right place and a clear timebox for the meeting is the way to run successful meeting. (Image: Pixabay (CC0))

During the meeting everyone are expected to be focused, engaged and no one has their mobile phones with them. Meetings are also always timeboxed to 30 minutes and they have clear agenda that has been distributed to the participants beforehand. If the issue on hand needs more time it’s always possible to prolong it, but according to Vo 30 minutes of well-prepared meeting is more than enough most of the time.


Neogames. 2019. The Game industry of Finland report 2018. Neogames Finland ry. [Cited 30.10.2019]. Available at:

IGDA Finland. 2019. What is IGDA Finland? [Cited 30.10.2019]. Available at:

Rock, D., Grant, H. & Grey, J. 2016. Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better. Harvard Business Review. [Cited 30.10.2019]. Available at:

Vo, S. 2019. My D.N.A. handbook for teams (Do Not Assume -guide). A recording from the Leadership Day 2019 by IGDA Finland. [Cited 30.10.2019]. Available at:


Ria Gynther works as a project coordinator in GameChangers project that aims to increase diversity in the Finnish game industry by empowering more women to enter the field. GameChangers is funded by European Social Fund and run by LAMK. Ria is also a IGDA volunteer and acts as a local hub lead in Lahti.

Image 2: (CC0)

Image 3: (CC0)  

Cover image: Ria Gynther

Published 11.11.2019

Reference to this publication

Gymther, R. 2019. How to lead innovative teams: learnings from the game industry. LAMK Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at:


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