Saturday, October 8, 2011

Management Styles and SciFi Movies

(Note:  This post may not make sense unless you have seen the movies "Independence Day" and "Battle: LA").

A recent alien invasion movie, Battle:LA, is quite different to traditional alien invasion movies such as Independence Day.  While the overall theme of invasion stays the same, the difference is how the problem is approached and how the day is saved.  These movies draw a great analogy to contrast how large companies operate.

Independence Day is the traditional "top down" movie, where the president himself decides the strategy, along with an elite top scientist, and work out a plan to stop the aliens.  The people at the top also join the fight, and the president even jumps in an F18 fighter to join the final attack on the alien mother-ship.  The movie very much focuses that that the day was saved by the people at the top doing almost everything themselves, from the strategy to the execution.

Battle:LA offers a totally different perspective, where the story is told completely from the perspective of a marine platoon on the ground.  The platoon is made up of a diverse group of individuals who are very flawed in many ways - the main character is trying to leave the marine corps as the movie starts as his body is starting to slow down with age (which I can relate to :-)).  There are no generals or politicians in the movie, and the focus is on the platoon going about the mission they have been given.  However, as circumstances unfold, the platoon sees an opportunity to defeat the enemy, and without being told, they take the opportunity.  The platoon shows intense teamwork - everyone knows their role, and they come together to surmount incredible odds.

These two movies provide a contrast in how companies operate:

Independence Day companies:

  • Define the strategy at the top
  • Hire star players at the highest level
  • Operate the company from the top down
  • Lower level teams constantly ask permission and are monitored closely
  • Execs step in and define tactics plus get involved in execution

Battle: LA companies

  • Define the strategy at the top
  • Hire star players at all levels of the company, from the bottom up
  • Focus on building great teams at the execution level
  • Operate the company from the bottom up
  • Execs keep away from tactical execution and let the lower level teams win.

Without a doubt Battle:LA offers a more realistic way to operate a large company - company executives  define the overall strategy and then get out of the way and let lower level teams win.  We are living in an extremely dynamic and turbulent time, and no single person at the top can understand all the factors affecting outcomes.

When lower level teams are giving the freedom and space to execute they can achieve truly amazing results. Many of my most productive and successful times at large companies have been when I was working on products that lacked executive visibility.  We knew the overall company mission, and were able to execute with small teams - the lack of interference gave us the ability to focus and deliver.

If you haven't seen Battle:LA then sit through the movie and consider how much the platoon achieves and how this applies to your company. Great companies enable their lower level teams to go out and win.

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