Extraordinary Team Blog

Where Movies and Teams Collide

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 14, 2012

One of my favorite past times is to watch a full-length, feature film and extract lessons in team dynamics, visioning, change management, diversity, decision-making, critical thinking and other factors that make teams work.

Here are my top five (subject to change over time as new movies come in or I revisit old movies):

1.  Miracle (2004).  The against-all-odds story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team winning the gold medal. The coach is determined to create a team that can rival the “fluid, creative” style of hockey of the Soviets, who dominated the sport for almost two decades. The coach uses a rather unorthodox, but effective approach (which borders on the sadistic) to turn a ragtag bunch of non-pro, college athletes into a world-class team.

2.  Twelve Angry Men (1957).  Whenever I talk about decision-making, I always refer to this classic movie that explores many techniques of consensus-building, and the difficulties encountered in the process.  Twelve men whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict, along with stifling heat and a looming baseball game makes for a tense conversation. The group must come to a unanimous agreement – and all are ready to convict except for one juror (Henry Fonda).  You never really know his position; however he believes the decision is too important to make without talking about it.

3.  Remember the Titans (2000).  A new black coach arrives at desegregated high school in the 1970s and has the challenge of integrating the football team. Lots of great lessons on working together – especially when you don’t like nor respect each other.  And who doesn’t like Denzel Washington?    

4.  The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain (1995) is a charming story of an entire town defending their hill – a prized local landmark – to be more than just a hill. They declare their hill is, in fact, a mountain to the out-of-town bureaucrat who must verify the fact. The problem is that the hill is not tall enough to be classified as a mountain! The townspeople rally around their “mountain” and enroll the out-of-towner bureaucrat in the process.

5.  Apollo 13 (1995).  This classic has one of my favorite scenes on team problem solving. On the way to the moon, there is an explosion in the service module affecting the carbon dioxide scrubbers that chemically remove exhaled carbon dioxide from the enclosed capsule. Ground control is given the formidable task to jerry-rig a solution with only the materials onboard, or the astronauts will die. With just a few hours of breathable air left, ground control concocts a makeshift solution…and saves the day!

6.  Moneyball (2011).  The true story of  Oakland Athletics baseball team general manager Billy Beane’s attempts to assemble a competitive team with virtually no money.  Beane resorts to a statistical approach toward scouting and analyzing players as a collective unit much to the head-scratching of his peers – only to win 20 consecutive games, an American League record.

7.  Coach Carter (2005). Ken Carter returns to his high school alma matter to coach basketball – to a group of rude and disrespectful players.  Through “tough love” he teaches them respect for themselves and for each other.  Based on a true story, Coach Carter made the headlines when he initiated a lockdown – banning the students from playing until they improve their grades.

8.  Norma Rae (1979).  A minimum wage textile factory worker from a small town in North Carolina becomes inspired by a labor union speech.  She is the first one to speak up on the shop floor and then successfully orchestrates an election to unionize the factory, resulting in victory for the union.  Yes, one person can change the world!

9.  The Commitments (1991).  If you like rhythm and blues (R&B) music, you’ll enjoy this story of a young promoter who cobbles together a local R&B band. His group of self-absorbed, backbiting, but extremely talented players begins to succeed, only to have petty jealousies threaten to tear the group apart.

10.  Lord of the Flies (1963 & 1990). This is a movie I love to hate.  It’s like a watching a train wreck when you know it is going to happen.  After a planeload of young military school cadets crashes on a remote uninhabited jungle island, we watch the boys cooperate at first, and then as the trappings of civilization fade away, they descend into chaos and conflict.

Other films that showcase the team dynamic include BabeThe Big ChillBlue CollarThe Breakfast ClubEnchantedThe Dirty DozenErik the VikingFrom Earth to the MoonThe Hunt for the Red OctoberLean on MeThe Man in the Gray Flannel SuitMission Impossible, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

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What are your favorite movies that depict the team dynamic?