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Find Your Team
Just don't choose the WRONG one
Some of my favorite tv shows and films are about people who – whether they like it or not – end up on the same team. Sometimes that team is very loosely held together (the Office) and sometimes that team is a beautiful manifestation of misfits moving in tandem (Parks and Rec).
The Good Teams
Some of my favorite fictional teams1
Pawnee Parks and Recreation
Dunder Mifflin Scranton
New York Police Department - 99th Precinct2
The Toon Squad from Space Jam3
Why these teams are great
These teams aren’t fantastic because they always get along. In fact, there’s conflict in them all the time. If there wasn’t, the shows would be boring. Conflict and characters drive story. But it’s the lessons learned in the conflict and the bonds that are solidified through that conflict that make their teams great. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are ideologically opposed to each other. Leslie wants strong government and Ron wants it to devolve into a libertarian woodsman utopia4. But they find a way through the differences to lead their team to solving problems and connecting with each other. Necessary conflict is a sign of a diverse team with differing opinions and viewpoints. No conflict is a sign of either an authoritarian regime or a group of people who all look and sound the exact same, both of which don’t really make a great team.
Pawnee Parks and Rec is driven to serve neighbors with fun activities and spaces (even if the budget hinders them from doing so). The NINE-NINE is trying to stop crime and protect residents of NYC. The Toon Squad is trying to win a basketball game so they don’t end up being a sideshow on the moon.5 Even Dunder Mifflin has a goal: to sell you paper and paper-related products. There are clear goals with any good team. And any good team knows what winning looks like, whether it’s sales numbers or winning an actual basketball game. Make sure your team knows what winning looks like. Because if you don’t know what it looks like, nobody is going to feel like they are actually winning.
Teams having fun together is one of my favorite parts of these shows. Whether it’s the Office characters participating in an Office Olympics or Brooklyn 99’s precinct Halloween Heist competition, there’s something about a team playing together that puts a smile on my face.6 I’m also pretty sure that the Looney Tunes’ Tune Squad from Space Jam was ONLY concerned with the fun and were rescued by Michael Jordan’s Mr. Fantastic impression.7
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The Bad Teams
Some of my least favorite fictional teams –
The Josstice League
Dunder Mifflin Stamford
Why these teams suck
Why is this even a team?
Nothing better exemplifies this question than the slapdash way that Joss Whedon’s version of The Justice League was rammed together for their 2017 outing. Why do these people work together? Why do they care about resurrecting Superman? Why does Batman look up to Superman after the events of the previous movie? Why is the Flash?
There’s nothing worse for a team than a series of ‘players’ thrown together because they are supposed to be good on paper. There are so many professional teams that fit this narrative. How many super teams have fallen apart because they were good on a spreadsheet and were truly awful when you put them out on the field, court8, rink? Supreme talent does not equal fit. No amount of talent will ever compensate for a team that doesn’t want to work together.
Agendas at Odds
People have their own reasons for why, where, and what they work on. The Stamford branch of the Office was a key piece of why season 2 of the Office was so fantastic. It threw Jim Halpert into a new situation as the new guy at a branch that may have felt more professional than Michael Scott’s Scranton branch, but had its own set of issues. This branch had supreme talent, but its office politics were their undoing. Whether it was Andy’s9 constant jockeying for approval or the inevitable end of the branch due to their leader Josh’s slimy use of his promotion to translate it into a cushier job with a competitor; this team was never trying to meet goals together. So I will reiterate the above point again: No amount of talent will ever compensate for a team that doesn’t want to work together.
In the end, Jim could see why Stamford went under. He saw what Josh did – using his promotion with Dunder Mifflin to leverage a promotion to a competing company – and knew it was something his former boss would never do. “Say what you will about Michael Scott, but he would never do that.” Jim understood that Josh was talented, but he wasn’t a great leader of their team because he was pushing his own agenda.
Pick a team
Nobody wants to be on a bad team, but sometimes it’s hard to discern the good from the bad. Hopefully a few of these points helped you out. Go pick your team and keep these things in mind as you do.
What if I’m on a bad team already?
That’s a good question, me. If you’re already on a bad team: look at ways you can make it a good team! Try to fill in some of the three categories of good teams above. Be the difference maker. Or find a way out of the team. Sometimes it can’t be saved, and don’t let yourself be squished by a bad team, or – worse – end up a sideshow on the moon.
If you’re leading a team, make it a good one. You can chart a path to an effective team with small steps:
Embrace, allow alternative ideas and discussion
Set clear goals, define ‘winning’ – and celebrate ‘winning plays’ on your team
Suss out hidden or conflicting agendas.
Don’t hire Joss Whedon10
You can be the difference between a good team and a bad team, so … uh… be good?
Leave a comment with a story about the best team you were on OR the worst?
this is a very loose interpretation. I’m not going to name a bunch of fictional sports teams.
Okay, so I did put a fictional sports team, but it’s also looney tunes, so it doesn’t count.
I’m not quite sure what Ron’s endgame was here actually, but it’s not important to the story.
Yes… this is the plot of Space Jam.
and not in the Heath Ledger Joker sadistic way… well – sometimes.
ahem this season’s first iteration of the Brooklyn Nets?
Eventually, Andy was broken of this… but it took punching a hole in a wall and anger management classes to this conclusion. Sometimes that what’s it takes.
I think that one is pretty self explanatory, and probably only applicable to Hollywood Production Companies, but you never know.