Building an incredible team is so important that it’s one of the main branches we focus on in the Do portion of the DoKnowBe Tree. We’ve heard from many of you that you are spending time and effort building your team and you’re seeing results, which is awesome! And yet, you might still fail as a leader. If you’ve built an incredible team and you are living into all eight characteristics of a great team, how can that be? Today I’m sharing a case study of just that situation—one that shows how important cultural fit is for even the strongest teams.
The group I’m talking about was an amazing team, assembled to do a specific project together. Many of them had worked together before, and as they got going on this new team, you could see them gel. It’s easy to argue that they lived into all of the eight characteristics of great teams: common goals, commitment, communication, trust, knowledge of themselves and each other, chemistry, grace, and huge amounts of talent (including Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert—this was supposed to be the big break for both of them).
The new show they were creating would air on one of the big three networks (back when that mattered) right after one of the most popular shows in television history. They had complete creative freedom, a generous budget, and lots of marketing power behind them. TV audiences were really excited for their show to launch.
And launch it did. The show this amazing team came together to create aired for eight episodes, and was then unceremoniously yanked from the network mid-season. The finale was never even aired. This was in 1996. Any guesses what show I’m talking about?
It’s The Dana Carvey Show. Despite the team living into all eight characteristics of a great team, the team failed spectacularly and very publicly. Why? I suspect it comes down to cultural fit.
ABC optioned this show after Carvey left Saturday Night Live. He and his manager considered going to HBO, but decided on the prime-time, broad audience ABC could offer them. They aired right after Home Improvement on Thursday nights. Home Improvement was the epitome of a family-friendly show. Families watched it together, and the hope was that they would keep on watching as The Dana Carvey Show came on.
And this is where that amazing team fell short. The team itself was aligned to its common goals, but it was not aligned to the common goals of the larger organization, in this case, family-friendly programming. Their very first sketch in the opening show was of Carvey playing Bill Clinton showing his softer side—by graphically breastfeeding a litter of kittens. I picture jaws dropping as parents scrambled to change the channel. Ratings plummeted immediately, and the show never recovered. Perhaps that sketch would not be raunchy today, but by 1996’s network standards, that was way over the line.
Cultural fit matters not only within the team, but within the larger organization. Just as an individual needs to align to the culture of the team, a team needs to align to the culture of the organization. To think it doesn’t matter is dangerous. I suspect that The Dana Carvey Show may have had a different path if they had gone with HBO instead of ABC, but who knows.
So how does this apply to you? As you work to develop the eight characteristic of your team, make sure that you are developing them in a way that aligns with the culture of the larger organization, or perhaps improves on that culture for those of you working in organizations that do not have clearly defined purpose, vision, and values. Most importantly, make sure that your team is not working against the culture your organization is cultivating.
I hope this stirs some things up for you today and gets you thinking about how your team fits into the culture of your organization as a whole. As always, if you have questions or want to process this more, we are here for you.
PS – Most of the information I shared today about The Dana Carvey show I got from the Hulu documentary Too Funny to Fail. It’s worth a watch, although it might not be for you if you were grossed out by the Bill Clinton sketch I described or don’t care for shows with foul language.