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5 Things Netflix’s Show CHEER Teaches Us About Teamwork

An unlikely subject of organizational behavior, Netflix’s docu-series CHEER took me by surprise. While it is a show about cheerleaders, it is not a ‘Bring It On’-like drama about pom poms and football. Rather, the show reveals valuable lessons in leadership, dedication and most importantly, teamwork.

Almost immediately it becomes apparent that cheerleading is an intense sport so reliant on a highly effective team that the absence of it results in someone falling off the top of a human pyramid. The principles upon which the Navarro Cheerleaders build such a cohesive team presents an interesting parallel to the tenets of teamwork we advocate for here at Cosmic Centaurs. Let’s take a closer look:

1. Accountability

Cheerleading as a sport demands the highest degree of accountability. A ‘flyer’ is a smaller cheerleader that gets tossed incredibly high into the stratosphere. She has blind trust knowing her team or, ‘stunters’, will catch her. If they don’t, the unthinkable could happen and the show CHEER isn’t afraid to go there. In fact, they show you just what happens; the bone-breaking tumble is followed by an instant response from the team who immediately drop to their knees to complete 100 push-ups.

This conditioned reflex demonstrates how solid teams exercise the ‘control’ that a manager normally would. Effective teams do not finger-point or engage in any hearsay. Rather, they are mutually responsible and hold each other accountable. Head Coach Monica Aldama reminds her athletes that winning teams rise and fall together.

2. Communication

The Navarro Cheer team relies on regular synchronous communication. Without this, they would not perform to perfection. While practicing their routine, both performers and those on the side lines engage in ‘mat-talk’ to give explicit cues, next steps and words of encouragement to one another. This communication is direct and offered in real-time. Without it, the teams have low morale, vague direction and ultimately, poor performance.

While synchronous communication is not ideal for remote-teams, the concept of ‘mat-talk’ can be applied to foster greater cohesion. Remember to acknowledge good work and facilitate smoother dialogue, this is how culture transcends digitally. If you’re curious what professional ‘mat-taLk’ looks like, just watch my personal favorite cheerleader Jerry the ‘King of Mat Talk’ hype up employees while walking into work.

3. Interdependence

I cannot think of anything that requires more interdependence than building a human pyramid 6 meters high. Such a task requires all three types of collaboration: pooled, sequential and reciprocal.

Pooled interdependence is when individuals work on separate components of a task that must be combined together to be completed. For example, the acrobatics and floor routine are the more commonly known aspect of cheerleading. Each individual’s performance is key, ensuring their footing is accurate and their timing is precise.

Practically speaking, consider how the quality of your contributions to, let’s say a shared presentation, can impact the quality of the final product. If each of your team is assigned to work on a few slides, and some are not up to standard, how would that affect the end result?

Sequential interdependence requires each person to perform a step before the next person can perform theirs. This is easy to spot as routines are performed in sequence with acrobatics and stunts taking place one after the other. Here, timing and respect for time is key because if cheerleaders miss a beat or are late to deliver, the consequence could be as damaging as concussions or broken bones.

The stakes are slightly different in a work environment, where bones are more likely to remain intact but tardiness is still an inhibitor of strong teamwork. If an individual is notorious for being late and missing deadlines, this would both tarnish the reputation of your team, and cause a delay in workflow, potentially resulting in conflict or tension.

Finally, reciprocal interdependence is a combination of both pooled and sequential interdependence. It’s the most challenging type of teamwork, and it is what the cheer team relies on to build a human pyramid. At work, reciprocal interdependence is often employed when managing complex projects, as it requires high levels of coordination and agility to manage a fluid and changing landscape. The Navarro Cheerleaders practice many emergency scenarios ensuring the team is prepared, responsive and quick to modify a routine should there be any crisis at the final championship. Spoiler alert: there are.

In fact, a last-minute injury in the final episode leads us to a perfect portrayal of ‘mutual adjustment’, the type of coordination best suited for reciprocal interdependence. This coordination accommodates the most risk and uncertainty, allowing individuals to introduce new information and navigate a way forward.

4. Rituals

In Cheerleading, rituals are everything and the team’s burning desire for success is rooted in respect for the sport. In a professional context, this translates to passion for the work itself. Imagine creating a secret handshake with every person on your team and performing it each and every day, or running into the ocean after each big win?

These are rituals that the Navarro Cheer team uses and while we don’t think secret handshakes are ideal in today’s social distancing world, these rituals build an unbreakable bond between team members. From donuts for breakfast on Mondays to monthly team yoga classes, there are a number of rituals you can consider to build a cohesive team - check our ritual bank for ideas and inspiration.

5. Leadership

The show follows Navarro Coach Monica Aldama as she scouts, coaches and nurtures young talent, ultimately taking her team to victory. Her ‘kids’ love her and her competitors envy her. She embodies great leadership qualities which can be simplified down to two principles:

First, her mission is clear: perform a championship-winning cheer routine to perfection for a grand total of 2 minutes and 30 seconds. With this goal in sight, the athletes know that the onus is on them to practice and deliver the work.

Second, and with a clear destination, her roadmap for the journey is best captured through her mantra for the team: “You keep going until you get it right, and then you keep going until you can't get it wrong." The central theme? Perseverance.

Monica knows how determined her kids are for success, and she will enable it. Her expectations are that each and every individual will work to their fullest potential in order to reach the shared common goal: a championship title.

So, where does this leave us?

Besides a burning itch to binge-watch the series, we hope you found these basic principles of teamwork somewhat inspiring. If you would like to learn more, sift through our resources, check out our ritual bank or book a consultation with us today.


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