By Priti Dadlani
While browsing Netflix for a movie to watch last weekend, we stumbled across The Internship, a 2013 film starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
Screwball comedy is not my favourite movie genre, (I prefer witty humour a la Woody Allen), but my family picked this movie and I gave in to the consensus opinion. Pegging The Internship as a film that didn’t require my full attention to follow the plot, I was only half-watching it for about the first 20 minutes as I cleaned up the kitchen after dinner in our open-concept family room.
But then a funny thing happened. I was slowly drawn into the movie when I realized it actually had a compelling lesson for everyone in the work world today: the importance of being a team player.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the movie if you haven’t seen it and spoiler alert, I will reveal the ending although it’s easy to guess given Hollywood’s penchant for happy endings, particularly for underdogs.
Billy McMahon (Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Wilson) are former watch salesmen who are looking for jobs after their employer goes out of business. They apply for internships at Google and via a Skype interview, talk their way into landing the coveted summer positions despite their lack of relevant experience and education, and the fact they are not college-aged.
At Google, they’ll be called “Nooglers” and spend the summer competing against other intern teams in a variety of projects. Members of the winning team will be offered permanent jobs with Google. Billy and Nick are put on a team with other interns who are misfits like themselves. As their first project, the teams have to develop an app. Billy and Nick sense their ragtag team needs to bond first and convince them to go out on the town to a strip club in San Francisco. Through a series of antics, a fight breaks out at the club and the team members are thrown out.
The night’s camaraderie inspires the team to create an app that prevents reckless phone usage while drunk. They win the challenge by racking up the most downloads.
In the next series of tasks, the team suffers some setbacks due to the ruthless tactics of other Nooglers, for example, one team whose members are kept in line by their self-appointed leader, who is a bully.
It all comes down to the final challenge; teams must sign a company to advertise with Google. Billy leads the team to show a local pizza joint how Google can help ramp up its business, while remaining true to its home base.
Although the pizzeria is not a large business, its potential to grow its brand and expand nationwide through technology is limitless. Predictably, Billy and team are declared the winners and will receive jobs at Google.
How did they do it? Through teamwork – by overcoming differences in their personalities, ages and backgrounds to pool their individual strengths and skills for the collective good of the company.
All CEOS know the importance of this. Take Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, who talked about the company’s design processes in a recent interview published in the Wall Street Journal.
“Innovation at Apple has always been a team game. It has always been a case where you have a number of small groups working together. The industrial design team is a very small team. We’ve worked together, most for 15 or 20 years,” he said.
Annette Verschuren, a veteran executive who has headed up numerous businesses in her career including the Canadian arms of Home Depot Inc. and Michaels Stores Inc., and, most recently, as chair and chief executive officer of energy storage developer NRStor Inc. is also a proponent of teamwork.
In an interview with the Globe & Mail, she said she’s not a fan of puck hogs. “If you don’t let people assist, you don’t win the game.” In the interview, Verschuren said teamwork is the key to innovation – and that teams work best when members check their egos, but not their skills, at the door.
“Give me a star team over star players. When you’re all working in unison, nothing can stop you.”
Finally, here’s a great video on the lesson of teamwork from National Ballet of Canada principal dancers Jillian Vanstone and Naoya Ebe. They explain how they work through their differences to create synergy in dance.
Post-script: The Internship was roundly panned by critics who derided it as a two-hour ad for Google. However, former Google employees noted the company environment was accurately depicted, although they said the internship process is nothing like that shown in the movie.
Are you a team player or a lone wolf at work? How’s that working for you?