Racking Up White Diamonds

As we (we?) skate deep into playoff season – 🏒 🥅  – cue the debates around what makes for a truly great team. The hunt is on to define that magic combination of skill, timing, unity, confidence, leadership, and luck that can take a team to triumph.

What is an example of a complex, non-sports team that came together to create something magnificent?



We’ll start with Dr. Richard Hackman (1940-2013) – Harvard professor and a world-leading expert on magic-making teams.

High Performance Teams, he found, have 5 key elements:

i. A real interdependent team
We need to rely on each other to get things done.

ii. A compelling direction
We are excited about what we are trying to achieve together.

iii. An enabling structure
We establish processes, norms, and common habits to help us work well together.

iv. Supportive context
We have the resources and setting we need – tools, information, trust – to execute successfully.

v. Expert coaching
We have a respected leader who can ask good questions, and offer targeted advice whilst giving the team the room they need to explore and grow.

So: which non-sports team do we nominate to the world of Hackman’s High Performers? The team behind the brilliant (brilliant!) 2021 animated series Arcane.

Now, sadly (sadly!), we weren’t there to nose about as key creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee led the wildly talented, global team to build this first season of Arcane, set in the universe of Riot Games’ ‘League of Legends.’ But, clearly, this was a high-performance team; there can be no doubt that they co-created something spectacular.

Don’t take our word for it. As of writing, Arcane Season 1 still has a 100% rating from critics, and a 96% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.



There are so many ways the project could have gone sideways…

As we see in the ‘Bridging the Rift’ making-of feature, the team was creating Arcane in the height of the pandemic. Masks on, desks empty, critical meetings running across squinty online boxes. The Riot Games brass was skeptical about making the leap from a wildly popular multiplayer online battle arena game to a fully animated $eries.

Showrunner Christian Linke is a polymath artist with strong opinions. There he is moving from studio to studio, eyeing the work of writers, actors, painters, digital and sound artists, classical and pop composers, indie and celebrity singers and musicians. As his partner in oversight, Alex Yee says: “I think with everything creatively, you’re always kind of waiting for that hammer to fall.”

And the hammer did fall. After some early misfires, Linke and Yee weren’t even sure if they would be granted the time and resources they needed to continue. The powers-that-be at Fortiche – the groundbreaking animation studio behind Arcane – didn’t dare show their France-based team Linke’s ‘things don’t look good’ video message for fear of dashing all hope in the future of the project.



But, by bringing in a few new team members – e.g. some new advisors and writers – the project soared again. As Linke says of the team, “I really, really, really trust them. Their hearts are in the right place. You just know they’re always going to err on the side of quality and passion.”

The love and care the team put into Arcane is evident in the finest of details. Take the artistry that went into creating Hextech – the powerful blue gemstone technology at the centre of the story. How to make this mysterious blue science sufficiently vivid?



The visual team played at our subconscious: “Nothing is round in the show. If you have a glass, if you see this glass, it’s not round, because a drawing is not perfect. If you see the eyes, the pupil is not round. Except the gemstone. This is the only moment where there is a sphere, a perfect sphere.”

Next up: the sound team. What would this perfect blue gemstone sound like? “I took some time and recoded some wine glasses. So, this is pitched up and then thrown through a tremulator. And then, it’s also thrown through a Doppler. Then Brad messing with a bunch of different synthesizers and a chimey, tonal thing with a choir. It has both sounds intertwined into it.”

In watching the Arcane artists and leaders work, and in seeing the results, Dr. Richard Hackman would surely agree: this was a remarkably high performing team.



Artwork: Arcane: League of Legends. 


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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton