What Walt & Jesse Could Learn about Teamwork
I should have expected it. After I posted "What Teams Can Learn from Breaking Bad(Part 1)," I started to get comments like this: "If that's a team, I don't want to be in it."
I get it.
The reality is that Walt & Jesse (one of the most intriguing duos ever, in the highest-rated television series of all time) are both a great team and a terrible team. In my last two posts, I've focused on what we can learn from them and other teams in the series.
In this final post about Breaking Bad, I'm turning the tables: where did Walt and Jesse ultimately fail to be a real team? If we could rewrite their saga, how could great teamwork have helped them truly succeed?
Reminder: there be spoilers ahead.
Lesson 1: Show your cards.
If there's one thing Walt (the near Nobel Prize-winner) fails at, it's being honest. He hides his cancer from his family. He hides his meth business from everyone who knows him. He hides his real motivations from Jesse.
In fact, you could even say that he wasn't completely honest with anyone—including himself—until the finale, when he tells Skyler his real reasons for cooking meth:
I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And, I was really . . . I was alive.
Well, Walt, it would have helped Jesse immensely if you simply showed him your cards.
Real teams, those who have a great time working together, who succeed like crazy, and even have each other's backs—they're honest with each other about the most important things.
If there's something going wrong, fess up. If there's a personal motivation driving you, put those cards on the table. At the very least, your team has all the important data. At best, it can keep the team heading in the same direction together, confidently.
Lesson 2: Create a safe space for failure.
From the very beginning of their professional relationship, Walt sees Jesse as a failure. After all, he did flunk out of Heisenberg's high school chemistry class.
Of course, Jesse proves over time to have plenty of street smarts, loyalty, and even enough mastery of chemistry to create his own nearly-pure meth.
What Walt failed to do was give Jesse safe places to fail—in other words, places where Jesse could learn, try something out, where failure wouldn't get attacked like Gus with a box cutter.
Real teams not only understand that failure happens: they plan safe places for it so the team can grow stronger. Imagine how quickly Jesse could have mastered Blue Sky with that kind of atmosphere.
Lesson 3: Pay attention to Work-Life Wholeness.
Yes, you read that correctly. Let's forget this nonsense about Work-Life Balance (more on that in another post coming soon). We can't balance our work and our life as if they're bags of blue meth on an industrial scale. The things going on in our lives are bigger than us, and need to be listened to.
For Walt, that should have looked like cultivating his family relationships even though his work was demanding.
For Jesse, that should have looked like getting advice for his mental life and his spiritual questions, before they got to the point of exasperation.
Real teams know that their work together is not the only thing going on in team members' lives. And they know that people's whole lives need to be healthy in order for the team to work well, too.
Lesson 4: Brag on each other.
Jesse was good at this. When Walt did something awesome, you heard it from Jesse in all its celebratory, street slang glory.
Who can forget this masterpiece of a one-liner?
Yeah, b***h! Magnets! Oh!
This is the kind of stuff teammates relish: getting caught doing something right, and getting celebrated for it.
The problem? Walt never does this for Jesse. And it throws his junior partner into uncertainty and even despair.
Don't do that, my friends. If you see something awesome on your team, give it a high-five.
Lesson 5: Apologize.
We're all human. We're going to screw up and, sometimes, we're even going to screw each other over. Sometimes we'll even do it on purpose.
That's where apologies come in handy. Real teammates apologize to each other, quickly and painlessly.
That's also where the team of Walt & Jesse fell down on the job. If they apologize to each other at all, it's way too late, after the damage has been done and the bitterness has built up to a boiling point.
Unless you're working on a team of actual robots, you should come to terms with the fact that great teammates apologize. Some friendly advice? Don't wait until the season finale to do it; catch it before the credits roll on the current episode.
I'm certain I've missed several teamwork lessons that Walt & Jesse could have learned, and that might have saved their relationship, even Walt's life. What teamwork advice would you give to the Dynamic Drug-making Duo?
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