The infamous Fyre Festival and the problem with “Don’t bring me problems…”

The story of the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas makes for compelling ‘car-crash’ viewing over on Netflix. Our colleagues at Belbin Australia have written a fantastic article charting in depth the various failures of teamwork and leadership which led to the utter collapse of the festival.

In short, the project was full of hopeful visionaries – Plants, Resource Investigators and Shapers – and these individuals neglected others’ contributions at their peril.

The voice of reason

At one point during the documentary, we hear from ‘Keith’, a pilot who was brought in for promotional shots and ended up attempting to advise the organisers on logistics.

Keith was the one to draw up a plan and raise genuine concerns about the considerable infrastructure problems the project faced. In this scenario, he was playing a Monitor Evaluator – the sober, impartial individual who refused to become caught up in the hype. In vain, Keith tried to persuade the organisers to think about the practicalities of the project – as he put it, the toilets, rather than the supermodels.

In response to Keith’s genuine concerns, Billy McFarland, the founder of Fyre, said:

“We are not a problems-focused group, we are a solutions-oriented group.  We need to have a positive attitude toward this.”

Keith subsequently left the project and the rest is history.

Problems or solutions?

It’s understandable to want to maintain a positive, constructive attitude within the team. But raising problems with a new idea is not synonymous with ‘whining’ or complaining’. And neither should we necessarily expect problems and solutions to come from the same sources within the team.

As Adam Grant, from the University of Pennsylvania points out, promoting a solutions-based culture obscures the most difficult of an organisation’s problems and can lead to a situation in which individuals advocate their own fix, rather than working together towards the optimum result. Or worse still, the prospect of having to offer a solution to what may be a complex, nuanced problem is too intimidating, and team members choose to remain silent instead, leaving the problem concealed and unresolved.

According to Belbin Team Role methodology, we might each have different roles to play when it comes to diagnosing, analysing and solving problems.

Monitor Evaluators and Completer Finishers are good at highlighting issues with the macro and the micro of a project, respectively. The shrewd, discerning Monitor Evaluator can analyse an idea from all angles, spotting broader problems that may prevent a project getting off the ground. The meticulous Completer Finisher can delve into the detail, pinpointing the line of small print which threatens to unravel the whole endeavour.

Those raising the issues may be regarded as wet blankets or pedants, but it’s crucial to allow them the space to voice concerns and identify problems, without discouragement or the onus of being the ones to provide solutions. Otherwise, these Team Role contributions are essentially discarded.

Moving from problem to solution

The key for high-performing teams is to understand the value of these contributions, acknowledge the problems identified and then decide where to look for answers.

There are a few Team Roles which might be particularly suited to solving problems.

  • Plants are creative, lateral thinkers. Undeterred by a blank page, they are likely to be the source of solutions that don’t occur to others.
  • Resource Investigators are adept at going outside the team to find untapped resources and networking to establish useful contacts who might be able to offer the crucial solution.
  • Specialists provide specific, in-depth expertise which may be needed for a particular project, even if these individuals are not permanent team members.

A skilled Co-ordinator can help identify which team members might provide these ‘solutions task-forces’, or determine if the project needs external consultation. This requires a consultative approach, giving adequate airtime to each team member and deciding how best to harness individual talents during the lifetime of the project.

Have you encountered a project team that blew off course because it ignored the warning-signs? Does your team expect all team members to come armed with solutions to problems? We’d love to hear from you and help you uncover the talents in your team.

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