People who work together in teams face challenges that go beyond the problem to be solved, and even beyond the technologies employed to solve that problem. They must work together under conditions ranging from calm to crisis. But because people have been working together as long as there have been people, we can learn how to work on projects from almost any story of people.
Film can help. Here's Part One of a list of some of my favorites. All of them have something to say to those of us who work on projects. And check out Part Two of this list.
- Treasure of the Sierra Madre
- A study of scope creep and team dynamics. Humphrey Bogart's "Dobbs" gives us insight into one particular source of scope creep — ambition. The team dynamics that develop as a consequence of Dobbs's greed are often mirrored in project teams. Director: John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston. 1948. DVD: 126 min. Order from Amazon.com.
- Apollo 13
- Watch and learn how Ed Harris's Gene Kranz, flight director, makes the right decisions to lead the team back from the brink of disaster. We also see team dynamics under extreme stress, both in the capsule and on the ground, and good examples of CYA and state-of-the-art group problem solving. Director: Ron Howard. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon. 1995. DVD: 140 min. Order from Amazon.com.
- NOVA: Super Bridge
- A documentary by US Public Television's Nova that follows the construction of a suspension bridge over the Mississippi just above St. Louis. Follow the designers and constructors through a bewildering tangle of delays, technological problems, floods, and biting cold as they deal with all obstacles to make the bridge a reality. Narrator: Hal Holbrook. 1997. VHS: 120 min. Order from Amazon.com.
- Mutiny on the Bounty
- Make your project For learning about
film is probably
the best thing next
to actual experienceplan carefully, and don't bet on things working the way you want them to. Captain Bligh went for the gold, and ended up losing — he had to backtrack from Cape Horn, lost a year, and then tried to make up the schedule on the backs of the crew. A study in managing by force vs. leadership. Director: Frank Lloyd. Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone. 1935. DVD: 132 min. Order from Amazon.com.
- Defending Your Life
- An example of how not to run a project retrospective. Director: Albert Brooks. Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep. 1991. DVD: 112 min. Order from Amazon.com.
- The Last Place on Earth
- Originally produced for US Public Television's Masterpiece Theater, this story of the race to the South Pole between two expeditions led by Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen is based on the masterwork of the same name by Roland Huntford. When viewed as a case study in project management, it explores the issues of focus, risk management, conventional wisdom, science, and innovation. Dir. Ferdinand Fairfax. Martin Shaw, Sverre Anker Ousdal. 1984. DVD: 396 min. Order from Amazon.com. Or read the book.
- The African Queen
- At the beginning of World War I, in September 1914, Rose Sayer, a Methodist missionary, and Charlie Allnut, a Canadian boat captain, find themselves on a desperate journey using Allnut's boat — the African Queen — to escape internment and possible execution by German military in German East Africa. Temperamentally and culturally at odds with each other, Charlie and Rose gradually form an alliance to attack the German patrol boat Luise. How Rose convinces Charlie to undertake this daunting task is a study in team development and the tools of influence. Rose is played by Katharine Hepburn, and Charlie by Humphrey Bogart in his only Oscar-winning role (best actor). Order from Amazon.com
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Problem Defining and Problem Solving
- Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we
know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving,
and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among
their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use
that make trouble.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
- Paid-Time-Off Risks
- Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick
time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer
expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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