What Teams Can Learn from Breaking Bad, Part 1

It's been called the highest rated television show in the history of television. Its final season just cleaned up at the Emmy Awards.

But what can teams learn from Breaking Bad? Well, so much actually, that it's impossible to contain in a single post. Here's Part 1.

As you'll probably expect, spoilers abound. So, if in doubt, watch the series first.


Lesson 1: Real teams use two scoops of adventure.

The show's creator, Vince Gilligan, originally pitched Breaking Bad to AMC with one line: "This is the story of a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface."

Why exactly does Mr. Chips transform into Scarface?

Well, it's an understatement to say that Walter White gets a few more kicks out of making meth with Jesse Pinkman than he did in teaching chemistry to bored high-schoolers.

It's also an understatement to say that most teams exterminate all the adventure out of their work.

Hey, keep in mind that you don't need to commit crimes to have fun. You just need to discover what's most exhilarating about your work, and pursue it together.




Lesson 2: Strengths are what you already have.

Walt can cook meth like nobody's business. Jesse has the street smarts to connect the product with customers. It doesn't take long for them for them to figure out they need both strengths to survive.

The strengths your team needs may already be engraved in your job descriptions.

But probably not.

Learn, over time, what your team needs to succeed—soft skills, hard skills, or what to do when your product turns blue.

Instead of wasting your time wishing for strengths you don't have, look around at each other's potential and at your givens, and start wielding them like the strengths they are.


Lesson 3: Great teams celebrate often.

OK, so Breaking Bad has some of the darkest scenes and images ever set to celluloid.

But Walt and Jesse also know how to celebrate small victories.

Remember Jesse dancing in his inflatable lab suit? Jesse jumping for joy after Walt's magnetic discovery? The high-five they share early in their career together, captured so fondly in all its gif glory?

Most of the joy of working on a team comes from celebrating the small victories together, not just waiting for the big ones to land.

In fact, I'd argue that the atmosphere created by small celebrations is part of what helps the big victories to land.



Lesson 4: Cross-train FTW.

Halfway through the series, Jesse gets kidnapped by the arch-fiend Gus Fring and bundled down to Mexico to cook. It's a make-or-break moment for Jesse and for Walt.

If Jesse screws this up, they're both in the soup.

Good news? Jesse's been watching Walt cook for months now, and it shows. Even in a dirty warehouse south of the border, he manages to turn out a batch with 96.2% purity.

Your job title and description isn't a fence. It's a specialty. To really help your team, learn your job but also the jobs near you on the team. Everybody wins.


Lesson 5: True teammates stand in the crosshairs.

In one of the most blood-curdling episodes of the series, "Box Cutter," Walt tells Gus:

"You kill me, you have nothing. You kill Jesse, you don't have me."

At various other moments throughout the show, Walt stands in front of a gun meant for Jesse, and Jesse does the same thing for Walt.

As the good Benjamin Franklin once said,

"We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Aside from the fact that it's awesome to imagine Poor Richard talking about hangin' together (I sense a new t-shirt), he's absolutely right.

The smallest meaningful unit in any organization is not a person: it's a team. 


What do you love best about Walt and Jesse as a team?

(Also, stay tuned for my next post, What Walt & Jesse Could Learn From Great Teams.)


If you'd like to learn how your own team could get stronger, click here to schedule a free consultation.