How to Bring Hollywood Magic to HR

Zoe Donaldson
The Ready
Published in
7 min readMay 1, 2023


It’s time to head to the movies.

Original image: Alisha Lochtefeld

Ever wondered how movies get made? What behind-the-scenes magic takes place on the other side of the screen? Sure, you can guess cameras, costumes, and craft services are involved. But the literal engine driving every film forward — from Caddyshack to Casablanca, Blade Runner to Black Panther — is a cross-functional team with a clear purpose: Make a movie.

This large-scale coordination — between screenwriters, set designers, cinematographers, animators, directors, actors, boom operators, and hundreds of other roles with discrete zones of genius — is the operating model that brings films and TV shows to life. And it happens over and over again.

The ability to continually create, sprint, and launch should be this well-honed in every organization, but it rarely is.

So why does this model work so much better in Hollywood than in big pharma? Because movie teams are singularly focused but never static. They assemble based on the job to be done. Maybe a crew sticks together for a three-week project — or for a year. Regardless of content or time horizon, what persists is the need to mobilize, collaborate, and pivot in order to ship the film — and disband when it’s done. These temporary units don’t succeed because they’re fixed; they succeed because they’re flexible.

We refer to this structure as the Hollywood Model. At its operational core are dynamic teams that execute distinct projects — and it’s capable of producing more than blockbusters or binge-worthy dramas. The same model can be followed to build the world’s fastest race car or develop an urgently-needed vaccine. Regardless of the industry or task at hand, there’s a distinguishable throughline: Assemble the right people with the right talents at the right time to solve a problem or chase a can’t-miss opportunity.

Spoiler: This organizational design has already moved beyond the studio lot. Aspects of the Hollywood Model can be found in industries both iconoclastic (think gig-based work) and traditional (think appliance manufacturing). Because as it turns out, flipping the ways-of-working script isn’t simply a radical, hierarchy-busting pivot; it’s a strategic evolution that accelerates both employee growth and explicit business value.

Movies, Meet Missions

At The Ready, we believe organizations of all shapes and sizes can be in the movie-making business. But what Hollywood calls movies, we call missions. And the “studio” (bear with the metaphor) best positioned to steer mission-based teams is HR.

Sitting in an organization’s cross-functional crosshairs, HR is uniquely situated to seed change across an entire company. The challenge: The function’s often yanked in opposite directions — “Be reactive but don’t forget to innovate the employee experience! Keep risk at bay but also lead us into the future of work!” — which results in HR having limited capacity to impact the company. For HR to steward organizations into the future of work, it must reimagine itself — adopting more people-positive and complexity-conscious ways of working.

How does HR get to Hollywood? We developed a five-step maturity model to answer that question (visit to download our full report, “Where HR Meets the Future of Work”) — and moving through the model hinges on learning how to execute a mission-based approach.

Embracing this idea doesn’t happen by socializing a deck. HR becoming an innovation center that not only supports, but also models new ways of working requires learning new capabilities. Successfully executing a mission-based approach means knowing how to spot organizational challenges (ones either long-ignored or ballooning into problems), pull together people with specific expertise, design experiments, gather data, and integrate a team’s findings so a whole system can learn. In other words, we’re describing learning how to curate an Ocean’s Eleven-worthy crew.

At first glance, mission-based teaming is about, well, teaming — but mission-based teaming at scale is how an organization challenges and changes default ways of working in service of both meeting the market and its own needs. All organizations are made up of teams, and all teams are a microcosm of how an organization operates writ large. A mission-based team (or MBT) is a safe way to test out radically different ways of working while also delivering vital strategic work.

“What Hollywood calls movies, we call missions. And the ‘studio’ best positioned to steer mission-based teams is HR.”

That’s why learning the how of mission-based teaming sits at the heart of our maturity model. This tectonic shift nudges HR pros to simultaneously level up skills while delivering undeniable value to internal clients.

But what do missions look like in real life? What persistent challenges can HR lead an organization to overcome by deploying mission-based teams? Here’s how to start.

Bringing Missions to Life

The nuts and bolts of a mission depend on an organization’s ambitions and idiosyncrasies. A meaningful mission at a healthcare nonprofit might be moot at a media company. To illustrate the types of challenges these projects can help tackle, we have three examples below — all of which draw inspiration from experience with our clients. The specific problems might not neatly apply to your context — but the big-picture impediments they describe will feel familiar.

1. The Problem: “Our business’s sales are expanding rapidly and we need employees to use new software to track the requests coming in, synthesize the data we’re gathering, and make decisions. There’s a corner of the business that’s off to the races and crushing this; everyone else is floundering.”

The Mission: Develop an in-house rapid training experience tailored to the new software and deliver it to a small pilot cohort.

The Potential Team: L&D lead, sales/BD representative, sales team members from pilot group, HR BP, product researcher, sales team members from lagging group

Sprint One Outcomes (i.e. what we aim to do and learn in the next two weeks):

  • Chartered the team to clarify roles within the group, revisit the mission with all team members, and determine what authority this team (versus others) requires
  • Identified the primary blockers for those struggling with the new software
  • Identified any and all themes in the context and skills of those using the new software well
  • Determined the 3–5 most important learning outcomes of training

2. The Problem: “We have a group of managers with retention issues in their direct report pool. We traced the issue to a lack of healthy and constructive feedback opportunities — but the best next step is blurry.”

The Mission: Create a team-level feedback process that enhances psychological safety and prioritizes skill development.

The Potential Team: HR BP, L&D lead, manager representatives from three departments with the biggest retention issues, current employees who are flight risks

Sprint One Outcomes:

  • Chartered the team to clarify roles within the group, revisit the mission with all team members, and determine what authority this team (versus others) requires
  • Reviewed existing data — surfaced by exit interviews, etc. — and created problem statements: What are the specific patterns around feedback we need to tackle? What’s the “job to be done” we need to design for?
  • Determined a way to validate problem statements with both managers and direct reports that maintains psychological safety
  • Identified areas of strength elsewhere in the organization (e.g., teams where feedback is being done very well)

3. The Problem: “After a year of swirling, we mandated, company-wide, three days a week in the office. Now, we’re having trouble attracting qualified talent and have seen some turnover of high performers, all of whom cite flexibility as the reason. To top it all off, employee engagement scores are dropping.”

The Mission: Create a menu of workable options for hybrid work.

The Potential Team: Talent acquisition, hiring manager, HR BP, representatives from departments with low scores, representatives from departments with high scores

Sprint One Outcomes:

  • Chartered the team to clarify roles within the group, revisit the mission with all team members, and determine what authority this team (versus others) requires
  • Retrospected the process of creating and rolling out the current hybrid work policy
  • Held a design session that allows diverse research and options to be brought to the group and discussed openly

How Missions Direct Innovation

Top-notch shepherding of mission-based teams and delivering key insights back to an organization is critical to HR’s evolution. As HR masters the constellation of capabilities needed to successfully identify and stand up missions, it starts becoming an innovation center and learning hub.

Wielding the tools needed to team in novel ways and teaching them inside one MBT after another — each composed of different employees from different corners of a company — is how new ways of meeting, deciding, collaborating, and problem-solving spread. The cross-functional members of the team bring new moves back to their own department, where the lessons and wins take root — and deliver greater capacity, value, and adaptivity. And it’s HR enabling those systemic strides, releasing hit after hit after hit.

The Ready is a future-of-work consultancy committed to changing how the world works — from business as usual to brave new work. We help organizations remove bureaucracy and adapt to the complex world in which we live. Learn more by subscribing to our podcast and newsletter, checking out our book, or reaching out to have a conversation about how we can help your organization evolve.

This article was much improved thanks to feedback and edits from Rodney Evans, Matt Basford, and Ali Randel.

📣 Calling all HR and People teams: Our just-launched offering, the Future of HR, is designed to help HR teams level up their skills, tackle cross-functional challenges in new ways, and respond to inevitable unexpected curveballs with greater ease within a future-ready operating model. Connect with us here to learn more and say hi 👋



Zoe Donaldson
The Ready

Writer, editor, and all-around content enthusiast at The Ready. Our Brave New Work Wednesdays Newsletter? I write that! 👋