Film critics are describing Ocean’s 8, one of the summer’s most presumed hits, starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna and others, in many ways: an all-female take of a classic heist movie; a hybrid action-crime-comedy-thriller; another film that can showcase the drawing power of diverse and inclusive casts. But, to some leadership experts, the film is something else: a blueprint for how to build teams to accomplish specialized tasks.
The plot revolves Bullock’s character plotting to steal a $150 million Cartier necklace. She can’t do it alone, however, so she assembles her friends, including a jewelry expert, a stolen goods fencer, and a hacker. They all come together for this one task, after which they disband (a sequel notwithstanding). Put simply, that’s a core reminder for many organizational operations today. “Work is increasingly being done around specialized teams coming together for episodic work,” says William Simon, global sector leader for media and entertainment at Korn Ferry. In a fast-paced business environment, executives are showing an increasing propensity to build cross-functional teams to help solve complex issues quicker and more efficiently.
Henry Topping, a senior client partner with Korn Ferry’s Media, Entertainment & Sports practice, says the combination of tech tools and the growth of the gig economy is leading to a so-called turnstile model of work. Teams are assembled with outside contractors whose performance is measured by agreed-upon benchmarks. Teams (and the individuals on them) who succeed get more work; those that fail, do not.
This style of work and team building also dovetails with the expectations younger workers have about what is means to be affiliated with an organization. Younger workers today more highly value such things as flexibility, training, autonomy, and skills development over money and stability. The democratization of work and the ability to participate in interesting projects keeps this group.
Corporate boards are getting in on the act as well, for other reasons. Organizations are increasingly constructing boards in a way that puts equal, if not more, weight on specialized domain expertise that it believes it will need to tap in the future and that current directors lack, Topping says. “There’s been a big-time change in mindset at the board level,” Topping says.
Episodic, team-based work poses unique management challenges, however, none of which involve the perils of a cinematic jewelry heist. Experts say managers in this type of environment need to be more flexible with and towards the employee population, for instance. These leaders also need the emotional intelligence to unite a team of employees who perhaps never worked together before and get them to embrace their individual roles. “Communication is key. Managers need to be clear and transparent about expectations, needs, timing, performance metrics,” says Simon.