5 Corporate Team Building Lessons from Oscar-Winning Movies

It will take a village…

…to pull off this year’s Academy Awards. The Feb. 24 telecast will go without a host for the first time since 1989, the year Rob Lowe performed his infamous duet with Snow White.

To avoid another such debacle, entertainment expert Bruce Fretts, frequent contributor to the New York Times and editor at Closer magazine, says the Oscars’ producers might want to look back at these five past Best Picture winners for lessons in good teamwork—lessons any corporate team would do well to keep in mind.

Spotlight (2016)

Teamwork lesson: Every member of the group brings something to the table.

Individually, any one of the Boston Globe staffers depicted in this docudrama couldn’t have broken the clerical-abuse scandal that ultimately won a Pulitzer Prize. But, like a journalistic version of the Justice League, each possesses their own superpower: Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) is a tenacious bulldog who never tires of knocking on doors. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) is a deeply empathetic advocate who makes survivors feel safe to tell their stories. Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the fiercely protective leader of the “Spotlight” section. Editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) stands up to the intense pressure from powerful outside forces to make sure the piece sees the spotlight.

Argo (2012)

Teamwork lesson: With the right team effort, even crazy ideas can work sometimes.

And this is one crazy idea: Tasked with figuring out a rescue plan for six U.S. embassy employees trapped inside Iran during the hostage crisis, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a wacky scheme to enter the country posing as a filmmaker scouting locations for a sci-fi flick. With a Hollywood makeup artist (John Goodman) and a Z-movie producer (Alan Arkin) providing showbiz cred, and some fast thinking on the part of the diplomats themselves, the faux movie crew manages to extract all six of the diplomats safely. Way to Argo!

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Teamwork lesson: Don’t be afraid to bring in an expert.

What better way to get inside the mind of a serial killer than to consult with another serial killer? Especially when it’s brilliant ex-psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)? That’s what fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) figures, and with his sage guidance, she and her fellow feds successfully hunt down Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Granted, this is a pretty extreme scenario—here’s hoping your office doesn’t have to deal with serial killers one way or the other. But it’s a good reminder that any team can benefit from outside expertise now and then.

The Sting (1973)

Teamwork lesson: There really is strength in numbers (runners).

As the Depression Era caper opens, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is pulling penny-ante cons on small-time “pigeons,” and former scam artist extraordinaire Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) is holed up with the FBI on his trail. But after these two grifters come together, they’re able to get away with the biggest swindle of their lives at a high-stakes poker game. In the process, they stick it to a Mob boss (Robert Shaw) and a corrupt cop (Charles Durning) — and it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that Sting.

In the Heat of the Night (1968)

Teamwork lesson: You never know who might be able to help you.

When Philadelphia cop Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) arrives in Mississippi to investigate the murder of a mogul, the redneck local sheriff (Rod Steiger) mistakes him for the killer and arrests him. Awk-ward! But this unlikely duo uses their different forms of expertise to track down the real culprit and develops a grudging respect for each other. And in case anyone tries to disrespect him, Virgil lays down the law: They call him Mister Tibbs!

Bruce Fretts contributes to the New York Times’ Movies and Television sections and works as Senior Articles Editor at Closer. He previously wrote for TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. You can read more of his movie reviews at FrettsonFilm.com.


Lead photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash