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Share your analysis of groups in movies, TV, and books modeling good or bad teamwork

Have you ever watched a video and analyzed a level of teamwork? Examples:

  • "Well, the reason the heist didn't work is because they didn't have clear roles and responsibilities. Of course they forgot to do XYZ."
  • "That surprise was beautifully orchestrated. That's the kind of vulnerability you get from a long-time team.
  • "That biopic reminded me that leadership does exist in the real world."

After watching "Cinema Therapy" on YouTube (where therapists critique movies) and listening to the "Starfleet Leadership Academy - Leadership Through Star Trek" podcast (where Jeff Akin breaks down lessons in leadership via various episodes from Star Trek TV shows), I thought...we could be learning from fictional work, too!

Share a lesson learned, break down teamwork steps, or critique collaboration you've seen on TV, on film, or even a book. It might be inspiring or even a way for people to learn through references from pop culture.

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15 comments

In Ocean's Eleven, a group of 11 attempt to steal money from a Las Vegas casino. I won't spoil the ending, but the reason why this team works is because they were upfront and continued to be open with the whole group's plan the entire time.

  • Good job, team: Transparency of what's happening, even if it has nothing to do with your role, is important. That's why when some of the members finished their part in the heist, they could still watch others do their part and root for them or try to help situations that were cause for concern.
  • Good job, team: Not only did Brad Pitt's character, Rusty, go over the plan over and over and over, but he checked in on individual team members to make sure they understood their roles. In this case, overcommunication, is reinforcement.
  • Could have been better, team: The head of the group, Danny Ocean--played by George Clooney, did however keep an ulterior motive for the heist away from his second in command, Rusty, and the rest of the team. This information (the overlap of a love interest), had it not been discovered, may have flustered Rusty during the heist (as Rusty ended up talking with the love interest) and thrown the whole operation off. Danny Ocean could not have foreseen this. So his "secret" coming out in the open before the heist, ultimately helped the end result. You never know when a teammate could benefit from information even if you don't think it has anything to do with them.
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Interesting topic, as always, @Christine P_ Dela Rosa !

Years ago I was in a training session where we watched the movie 12 Angry Men, and the facilitator paused it throughout, guiding us through the team evolution, formation, diversity, inclusion, various forms of bias, leadership development, and performance of the jury "team".

Kind regards,
Bill

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Definitely interested in hearing more. What was your favorite or most memorable takeaway, @Bill Sheboy?

One memorable takeaway was the impact on the participating team.  People who had seen the movie many times paused to face some uncomfortable issues raised, and soon became more open to listening and engaging with one another to seek understanding, rather than assuming they already knew all the answers.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

This begs the question: if you're exposed to (let alone first-hand experience) great examples of "seeking to understand," will it make us all more susceptible to do the same? 

If so, we should start watching movies like 12 Angry Men as a team! As though they're a rally call for teamwork hehe.

Pramodh M Community Leader Jan 03, 2022

Hi @Christine P_ Dela Rosa 

This is a TV Show - We Bare Bears!! and why I love this is it has got three friends having their daily routine together. Having this watched for 4 seasons gave me ideas on how we should inspire a team, bring the best among friends/colleagues that we work with and together!!

It's fun too!!

Thanks,
Pramodh

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Wholesome! 

And forming routines to progress (particularly with counterparts you care for)is what I like to think of as a collaborative way to form communities today! I haven't seen this but maybe I want to watch it now!

That is a much bigger picture than I expected! Ice bear is an outstanding character though, very much the person in a team that doesn't say much but is always there whatever is needed 

My breakdown of the teamwork featured in Pitch Perfect!

***

***

SPOILERS WITH SELECT PLOT POINTS BELOW!

***

***

  • Plot point: one of the veterans in an acapella (singing where only voices / no instruments can be used) group--Chloe, overhears a newbie--Becca, sings really well. They bond. 

    Of note: a budding relationship is the beginning of earning trust on both ends.

  • Plot point: Becca surprises herself (and all the acapella groups in the university) during a friendly contest/singing exercise. She gets more of her group's members to join her in her musical riffs and there's some bonding through that. Later, there's more bonding through Becca's group's musical training.

    Of note: the group is new (with the exception of two senior members--Chloe and Aubrey, it's everyone else's first year and the group just formed). They take cues entirely from leadership (notably one person, Chloe).

  • Plot point: during an acapella competition within one university, an all-female acapella group loses to an all-male acapella group. But they qualify (on a technicality) to participate in the bigger competition. 

    Of note: the group is new (with the exception of two senior members--Chloe and Aubrey, it's everyone else's first year and the group just formed). They take cues entirely from leadership (notably one person, Chloe).

  • Plot point: after a breakdown in the group, different team members leave and the group disbands briefly. But to compete in the bigger competition, the team holds a "share how they feel" session and the group's members endear themselves to each other. The biggest reveal is vulnerability felt by the team lead--Aubrey (in terms of always performing at the top) and the main character newbie--Becca (in terms of allowing herself to share personal things bout herself and form connections with others). From all the sharing, the group is able to take ownership of mistakes and be open to different ways of singing together.

    Of note: the group gives each member space to take the lead on what they want to do. Becca introduces the group to mashups (mixing songs and pulling inspiration from different types of genres). Another newbie layers her own repeatable music background. The veterans don't always take lead. 

  • Plot point: the group is able to perform in the big competition (against groups from other universities) where ideas come from all members and they work together. Yay!

 

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Jimmy Seddon Community Leader Jan 03, 2022

Ok I LOVE this topic!  Thank you for making me think @Christine P_ Dela Rosa!

For the past two weeks I have been subjected to repeatedly watching Paw Patrol with my 4 year old.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching Paw Patrol with him.  However, we got him the new movie and we watched the same movie 4 times in a 24 hour period which is a bit much for me.

But, this seemed like to perfect "team" to analyze.  For anyone not familiar with the show it revolves around a group of dogs each with their own unique set of skills who are called upon on a regular basis to save the citizens of Adventure Bay.

I have two instances of great team work and one criticism to share with you all!

1) Proper T-Shaped Agile Team:  In some of the later seasons of Paw Patrol, there are episodes that feature what they call "Ultimate Rescues".  Unlike the earlier seasons where each pup performs just the jobs they are experts in, Ultimate Rescues involve the SME leading the entire team under a single skillset (such as all the pups loading into a large fire truck under Marshal's leadership).  This perfectly displays the way to execute a T-shaped agile team, where you have each member of the team deeply knowledgeable able a specific area or topic, but everyone will pitch in to assist with any task when the time calls for it.

2) Leadership that enables, encourages and empowers team members:  "Mighty Pups" is each another series with it's own introductory "movie".  One of the things that happens in this movie is that multiple times throughout the movie, Ryder the human leader of the group, encourages police pup Chase to take on a leadership role, even though he doubts his abilities.  His fellow teammates are also very supportive of him as well.  Things don't go well and he makes a number of mistakes, but everyone continues to encourage him and in the end he does a fantastic job.  This reminds me of my current company where people are regularly asked how they want to proceed in their careers and leadership makes sure to provide them with growth opportunities!

3) Lack of Self Service:  Now as anyone familiar with Paw Patrol with know, the citizens of Adventure Bay are VERY incompetent and are regularly calling the Paw Patrol to solve tasks that a number of times they could solve on their own or avoid in the first place.  I have been there in a previous job where I would just fix everything because it's nice to feel needed.  However, I discovered I'm doing a dis-service to both myself and the people I'm helping.  I'm now a bottle-neck to them completing work, and I'm regularly interrupted to fix things that people could probably manage on their own.  A bit of education and empowerment to help your users/customers solve their own problems will allow you to continue doing your best work without unnecessary interruptions.

Thanks again and I can't wait to see what others come up with!

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I couldn't like this more, @Jimmy Seddon. Stories of collaboration targetting children of course are just applicable.

My favorite takeaway from your lessons is the "lack of self-service" being a disservice to the Paw Patrol team. I wonder if kids ever say, "I wish the citizens could just learn how to do this themselves!" But it's nice to know that rises up for adults.  

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Vero Rivas Community Leader Jan 04, 2022

Hi @Christine P_ Dela Rosa 

  Very interesting topic, which is assumed every day we are more plural, but sometimes I have the feeling that we are increasingly individualistic

  I really liked the movie "G.I. Jane", because despite the fact that the experience can be very hard and a bit aggressive, it is learned that "you never abandon a partner", the triumph belongs to everyone and the failure too


 Currently in teams, triumphs or failures are particularized in a person, always looking for guilty or successful, when it is assumed that when working as a team the word always has to be "everyone"

Cheers

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Whoa, I remember "GI Jane"!!! If I recall correctly Jane saves Master Chief after his unfair treatment of her earlier. What united Jane, Master Chief, and the rest of the squad was that team goal. Even though they weren't necessarily emotionally bonded, a common goal unites people and that's what makes team success require everyone's success. Nice callback, @Vero Rivas.

I recently watched "Spotlight" and whilst the subject matter isn't the most pleasant it made me think about autonomy within teams and how being able to truly own something (and get the rewards/pushback) as a collective can drive a real sense of care and ultimately provide positive results. 

The team in this film also have the gift of time working together so even when there is conflict there is a sense of what I would consider earned patience with each other. 

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Totally, @Craig Collins. The Boston Globe team also showed how owning something fully might afford a team subconscious permission to push for what they really want/need.

I love this post! Thanks, @Christine P_ Dela Rosa ! The Avengers are an example of teamwork and how a team together can accomplish more than the individuals :-)

"There came a day unlike any other when earth's mightiest heroes were united against a common threat! On that day the Avengers were born! To Fight the foes no single hero could withstand!"

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Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 04, 2022

OOOOHHHH @Carlos Garcia Navarro you took mine! Although I was going to point out how dysfunctional the team was (Tony and Bruce with Ultron, ultimately leading to Thanos, etc.) and how we can learn from their mistakes by being more transparent. If only they had used Confluence to document everything, the rest of the team would have known about the experiment before it got too out of control!

But your lesson is an important one. In the words of Nick Fury:

The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to. To fight the battles that we never could.

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@Carlos Garcia Navarro LOL yes. The Avengers is/was a literal superpower team. I agree with @Andy Gladstone that the team didn't share information with each other...I mean they did, but not the entirety of plans sometimes. My guess is because there was distrust early on. But the info-sharing did pick up when trust picked up (e.g. post the Civil War installment). So by the end of things, I think there was a balanced level of trust and transparency.

Fight me on this take. I actually would love a debate ;)

After reading your posts, @Christine P_ Dela Rosa  and @Andy Gladstone , I think I agree with you. The concept of super team "avengers style" may not be the best one. For the sports loves, I remember the LA Lakers (basketball) in 2003 and the Real Madrid "Galacticos" (soccer) in the 2000s, that had super stars but that had a disappointing performance. Teams are much more than a collection of super capable individuals...

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

I read a lot of Sophie Kinsella's books and they all follow a standard, predictable format.  However, that's almost why I love them so much. 

Often times the main character gets herself into trouble because she's not listening to the people around her, she's so caught up in what she wants and what she's thinking that she thinks she knows best. 

What can she do to fix that?  Take some time to actually listen to her peers and process what they're saying before ignoring them.  How many people are telling her the same thing?  Could she apply what they're saying to her life? Perhaps she could jot everything down into a chart and even come up with a compromise :)

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@Kristin Lyons I've not read Sophie Kinsella's books but I know of them.

Beyond collaboration practices, I think your example dips into the idea of choosing between working as an individual vs thinking of others as people who can support the same goal. Sometimes I neglect data points from others because I think I'm the only one that cares about the problem I'm trying to solve, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Maybe "I" should read those books hahaha.

Yes, it's true that there are definitely times when working as an individual has it's benefits as well :) They're really good books just super predictable hehe

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 04, 2022

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa I agree with your previous comment on our Avengers string.

The pivotal moment (IMHO) was when Tony allows Peter Parker to remain on the spaceship and anoints him as an Avenger in Infinity War. From that point forward the entire team is open and honest with each other - on Earth and on Titan.

Where were the exceptions?

1. Dr. Strange does not tell Tony what the one possibility is that will lead to a positive outcome? Why? Because this would have caused outcome bias and he knew Tony would not continue to work independent of the pre-determined outcome, which in effect would eliminate that possibility all together. This is a good example of withholding information for the sake of the outcome. Not every person needs to know every thing at every time. (Eventually Dr. Strange does let Tony know in Endgame - when Tony's actions could no longer eliminate the possibility).

2. When The Guardians of the Galaxy arrive. A hot headed Starlord argues with Tony and then goes rogue when Peter and Tony were about to pull the gauntlet off of Thanos's arm. The lesson here is that new team members first need to earn the trust of the team - no matter how senior the new members are - before inserting themselves into existing issues/processes/initiatives. 

Thanks!

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Re: your #1 point, great exception to the sharing rule, though it also follows the rule because the info wasn't withheld out of mistrust but because it wasn't info that would have helped the situation.

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What a great topic, thanks for starting this. I started watching Ted Lasso last week and have been thinking a lot about the leadership principles one can learn from that show. Below are some Ted quotes and the themes I believe they represent. Looking forward to the next season.

Ted Lasso

Leading with empathy:

“If that’s a joke, I love it. If not, can’t wait to unpack that with you later.”

Everyone has a role and value to add:

The character Nathan is the "kit man" and takes care of all the team members' needs, but he has a lot of great input because of his unique perspective and passion for the Richmond team.

The power of a team/we versus me:

"Jamie, I think that you might be so sure that you're one in a million, that sometimes you forget that out there, you're just 1 of 11. And if you just figure out some way to turn that 'me' into 'us'...the sky's the limit for you."

"This is a sad moment right here. For all of us. And there ain't nothing I can say, standing in front of you right now, that can take that away. But please do me this favor, will you? Lift your heads up and look around this locker room. Yeah? Look at everybody else in here. And I want you to be grateful that you're going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain't nobody in this room alone. Let's be sad now. Let's be sad together. And then we can be a gosh-darn goldfish. Onward. Forward."

A critical part of leading people and teams is being authentic and owning mistakes:

"Guys have underestimated me my entire life. And for years, I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day, I was driving my little boy to school, and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, and it was painted on the wall there. It said, 'Be curious, not judgmental.' I like that."

"Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn't it? If you're comfortable while you're doing it, you're probably doing it wrong."

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Ted Lasso is like THE leadership and teamwork show right now. Dare I say, one of the best ever? 

I can tell you finished season 1 and are just starting season 2 :) so I won't bring any spoilers, but I feel like that show is coaching everyone watching in addition to the players. It's so great. And the lessons apply to not just sports teams, but romantic relationships, family relationships, support networks, etc. Great show.

And thank you for all those quotes, @Jonathan Whitford!!! ⭐

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My first thought is this video clip from IT Crowd - on how you might have team problems, but you don't try to solve them yourselves, bring them directly to the management and then chicken out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGFGD5pj03M

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Hahahaha, @Anita Kalmane I know of the IT Crowd but haven't watched it myself. This is exaggerated life I know, but it depicts real-life team conflict challenges beautifully. 

What's interesting, is that sometimes I see the opposite on TV, where teams elevate their issues to management and managers offer full support. And when I see that I think, "that's not quite how it goes in real life...at least not often." Telling that that's my reaction. 

Currently figuring out which one I'm going to post. I've got several. Love this topic!

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Vivian Chau Atlassian Team Jan 07, 2022

I'm enjoying this thread SO much. There are so many examples I can think of because I probably watch WAY too many movies and shows, and I love (most of) them.

I just watched ep 3 of the latest season of The Expanse, and (not really a spoiler but minor plot point) there was a great exchange between Bobbie and James Holden. While Holden is the captain of their ship, Bobbie quickly jumps in during an intense battle scene, orchestrating an expert military maneuver. Holden quickly hands over control of the weapon systems, ceding to Bobbie's superiority in military strategy (since Bobbie was originally a super soldier from militant Mars). Other exciting things happen and I'm not going to reveal any more, but I loved the intense and quick dialogue between them. 

In short, a great leader trusts the team, even when (or maybe especially when) the stakes can't be any higher. 

9ERa.gif

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It's interesting. As someone who listens to many folks explain their teamwork issues, so often it comes down to relationships and respect. So when I see a leader trust their teams because of individual expertise, I remember that leader because of how rare that quality sometimes shows up.

PS - I haven't jumped on The Expanse train yet, so @Vivian Chau thank you so much for a spoiler-free message!

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Vivian Chau Atlassian Team Jan 07, 2022

HIGHLY recommend The Expanse. Some of the plot points are more sci-fi mystery-like, which I personally enjoy too, but what I find the most interesting are the politics of the different factions in the solar system, where people not only live on Earth but also on Mars and in the Asteroid belt. Reminds me of GoT where the fantasy becomes besides the point. The machinations of characters like Varys, Littlefinger and ultimately the queen herself, Sansa, are the most fascinating to me.

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Wanted to add some important context that I left out (and I hope it isn't too "spoiler"-y) and relate it back to insights on leadership and teamwork.

Holden cedes control of the weapons to Bobbie not only because he knows she's better at it, but also because he's trying to pilot at the same time during this battle scene. Something I love about the Expanse is how realistic it makes space travel seem (unlike Star Trek and Star Wars where you push a button and the warp drive/hyperdrive zooms your ship ahead, easy peasy). 

So, another thing great leaders do is realize when they can't do everything by themselves. If Holden didn't trust Bobbie, he would've tried to do everything himself, most likely ending in catastrophe. 

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The Expanse feels more like what our future will be as opposed to the future utopia in Star Trek. I know we'd all love the latter future more but it's almost eerie how familiar The Expanse feels with each passing year. 

But, just like with the show, I believe the good in humanity will win out in the end. We have our differences and flaws but our potential to be a force for good is our saving grace. 

My. Favorite. Show. Ever.

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A topic we came across a few days before this discussion has been started here in Teamwork Lab is how "The Smurfs" (https://smurfs.fandom.com/wiki/Smurfs_Wiki) organized their community - we had a chat about that, so the discussion here is a follow-up per coincidence.

Being a format for children popular in the eighties some aspects seem outdated and were probably never intended to be transferred into a modern working environment. Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from the smurfs. They are a bunch of fictional but friendly creatures, always helping and motivating each other. In each episode they are to solve some kind of 'problem', never connotated with violence but showint kids how to cope with each other in a supporting way.

On the other hand all smurfs are focused on "Papa Smurf" - the father of all smurfs and characterized as a several hundred years old and very wise, calm, open-hearted smurf with a white beard.

What I already noticed as a child: the community is so strongly focused on him, nothing seems to works without his advise. He decides what will be done, what will not be done.
While this drafts a leader the problem is that the village is near paralyzed, not being able to take any decision, as soon as he is absent, ill or in any other form "not available".
Transferred to a modern working environment perhaps a deputy would be responsible for taking decisions in that situations.
From what I believe still a critical aspect to get the company flowing but not to create a bottleneck.

Some years ago a German radio station published a blog post where his character was analyzed. He was indeed called an authoritarian with a huge sense for democratic aspects in his decision-making for sure (that was explained that the format has it's roots in France and was followed by an explanation how France was lead back then).
This must not be understood in a way that the comic/format was wrong when looking back at it - the characters were formed in a way children were shown values like openness, honesty, treating each other 'like they are' and working together in a team - even in tricky situations.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Things seemingly made for children can have such adult backstories. (See also Alice in Wonderland, the London Bridge is Falling Down nursey rhyme, etc). Great inclusion, @Daniel Ebers!

Papa Smurf truly is the central decision-maker in the community. The name "Papa" makes me wonder how this parallels with parents in general. Parents generally make all the decisions, even though they may take their children's feelings into consideration. To play devil's advocate, if all other smurfs are like kids, then is it so bad to be as authoritative? Well, to counter myself, yes, if the absence of his leadership means the team can no longer function. 

So this begs the question: how well should a team be able to function without a strong leader? I think the answer could be "it shouldn't function as well" and a leader's departure should naturally bestow the role to the next person capable and who'd be well received by the rest of the group.

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa , I beg to differ. A high-functioning self-organising team can work great without a strong leader. Focus on 'high-functioning'. In agile, we believe that the teams don't need a manager or a team leader, but those responsibilities are distributed within the team. Of course, there are some thought leaders or people who are more pro-active than others, but it doesn't mean they are leaders.

One can be a leader for topic X, while another person for topic Y. 

And actually removing one strong leader will give a chance for other people to shine, step up and take extra responsibility. Preferably several people at once.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Great point! Autonomous teams should be able to self-organize and change as different blockers arise or as landscape changes, etc.

However, when it comes to decision-making, what happens when there is not consensus? If you use a DACI, RACI, or other decision-making framework, there's always a "driver" or "responsible person" for a project and that person is what I deem as the lead. Is there ever a project team without someone designated to make final calls? Curious what you think about project teams running without a driver, @Anita Kalmane

As for removing one strong leader, yes, I'm with you. I do think different people can step up in place of a lead moving elsewhere or taking a different role on the team. 

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa , oh, my reply would be too long if I'm really to type everything I have to say to answer you :) So I'll try to summarize:

  • When there is no consensus: you discuss and listen to each other until there is consensus. You should also have team agreements when you go for decisions (e.g., you always want 100% ppl agree; you want to go with simple majority; you want to go with YY another agreement) and follow that . If people disagree, they usually have good reasons on why not to agree - otherwise why would you have hired them?
  • You can have a driver / responsible person for a specific task, but not for the whole team as such. Agile teams usually don't use RACI, but look more into 'what's my specific role' and 'what do we do together and are responsible for as a team'. Often if somebody fails in the team, it means everybody has failed (one for all, all for one -Three Musketeers) 
Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

So interesting! I'm not sure I've ever worked on a truly agile team before so I'm not accustomed what that's like. At least not when there is real conflict and working agreements have not covered that situation).

I'm learning a lot right now @Anita Kalmane

Thank you for sharing! 

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