Teamwork lessons from “The Hunger Games”
As evidenced by silly posts in reputable places like Dave Eggers Wrote the Best Business Book of the Year (the puddle-deep dystopian novel The Circle), practical business lessons can be found just about anywhere if you’re looking hard enough. Here at Central Desktop, we’re looking so hard that we’ve become convinced that most entertainment pieces are just clever vehicles for promoting collaborative philosophies.
That brings us to The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. If people think Eggers dropped some timely truths in his new book, wait until they spend some time with Katniss! Teamwork lessons galore! Is it the business movie of the year? Well, let’s not get carried away.
1. Keep your immediate focus + don’t be overwhelmed by your ultimate goals
There’s a reason athletes and coaches trot out the same tired cliches about “taking it a game at a time” (or, in this case, taking it a kill at a time). Yes, they’re lying, obviously – everyone thinks about big prizes – but if you get too far ahead of yourself and think about what you’re going to do when you win the big game – or how you’re going to spend your vacation after your startup shatters every record ever known on Wall Street – you’re probably going to get an arrow in the back before the audience even knows your name. Bryan Cranston’s best advice for aspiring actors? Don’t go into auditions thinking about the future (e.g. how great it would be to book the job). Just do the work.
2. Learn from colleagues with different skill sets
You don’t need to be good at everything; the idea that specialists are endangered is much-overblown. One of the following tips reinforces that. But while it may seem like you have a perfectly well-oiled machine in which everyone happily stays in their silos – financially illiterate creatives and creatively illiterate developers, etc. – it’s in everyone’s interests to at least absorb some of the knowledge outside of the specific jurisdiction of their own job titles. “The best successes I’ve had are when I truly understand why the developers are making the decisions that they’re making,” says Meaghan Fitzgerald, head of marketing for 23snaps, makers of a photo-sharing app tailored for parents. “I won’t ever be the person who writes the code base… but I can understand the language they’re speaking.”
3. Style points always count
Obviously a company that trots out this guy knows a thing or two about making a good appearance. This doesn’t just apply to your company’s branding and messaging, but to your internal initiatives. If you’re doing something that doesn’t seem so fun on the surface – leading a software implementation or dressing teenagers for a fight to the death on live television – find a way to get your audience excited.
4. Wait to judge them until you see them under pressure
Who’s them? Everyone. Your bosses, your underlings, your colleagues… you won’t really know them as collaborators until you’ve seen them battling an intense deadline, grappling with a difficult client, absorbing challenges in their personal lives without taking it out on their teammates at the office, etc. “We’ll see how high and mighty he is when he’s faced with life and death,” Katniss says.
5. It’s OK to admit your reservations
A can-do attitude is one thing; blindly and naively thinking you can do anything is quite another. If you have a bunch of rah-rah personalities, it’s valuable to balance them with some healthy skepticism.
6. A work-spouse can be a life-saver
Figuratively or literally.
7. Don’t let personal feelings prevent you from gaining knowledge
At some point in your career travels, you may encounter a Haymitch: a crude, jaded, drunken “industry insider.” Don’t let personal animosity or professional disagreements drive a wedge, though; not only will the negative energy not be helpful for your own productivity, but we can gain a lot of insight from our nemeses (e.g. Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” approach).
8. Team players don’t have to be bundles of sunshine
“It’s not as if I’m never friendly. Okay, maybe I don’t go around loving everybody I meet, maybe my smiles are hard to come by, but I do care for some people,” Katniss says. One of the fading-but-surviving myths about business collaboration is that it means all of a sudden everyone is on the party-planning committee. All of a sudden your company is one big Facebook page! Not so. You can be a great collaborator without plastering a permanent smile on your mug.
9. A mirror image makes a great BFF – but not a great work alliance
Katniss and Peeta make a formidable team, much more so than if they had equal skill sets. If you haven’t taken our 9 Collaborators quiz yet, check it out and learn more about how you can benefit from ninjas, socialites and other work archetypes. Of course, it also always helps to share a common goal like “let’s not get eaten by those mutated wolf-things.”
10. Don’t be cowed by precedents
There’s never been two winners of The Hunger Games before? Big deal. Change the narrative. Create a demand for two winners.
11. Find the right tools to showcase your strengths
You’re a hunter. Your prey? Unlikable rich kids from snobby districts. Sorry, no, that part was for Katniss. Your prey is a wild flock of wasted minutes, overstuffed inboxes, outdated communication, isolated departments and inefficient workflows impacting your ROI. When you reach for your tools, they shouldn’t add to your work; they should make your work easier. In other words, yes, they should make certain the odds are ever in your favor.