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FYRE Festival was never going to fly straight

For Dreams to become reality you need a balanced team.

The Netflix documentary “FYRE – The Greatest Party that Never Happened” on the failed 2017 FYRE Festival in the Bahamas is compelling viewing. If you have not seen it, it chronicles the ill-fated venture and the trail of broken dreams and promises that was FYRE.

Perhaps more interestingly, it is also a useful study of teams and leaders in action as a project unfolds.

The festival (if you can call it that) wan an unmitigated disaster of shallow excess - an influencer and entrepreneur fuelled trail of chaos, broken promises, conned investors, deceived clients and unpaid workers. The ultimate festival where a great vision became a marketing façade that was disastrously allowed to continue into execution, despite it being blindingly obvious that failure was truly inevitable.

The marketing for the festival promised movie-star treatment. Remote islands, private jets, luxury accommodations at exorbitant prices. Influencers and talent posted the enticing but ambiguous burnt orange tile promoting the festival – and the world went mad for it. They had almost sold out in under two days. The problem was the vision could not actually be carried into execution. The reality was no music, no accommodation, and ‘Lord of the Flies’ style degradation of humanity where festival-goers fought over mattresses, food and water.

How did it get that far?

That is the real question. Why could no one stop the inventible train wreck? At its most elemental level it is all about a toxically imbalanced leadership and team culture. Solo leaders, not team leaders.

Could it actually have been made to work?

If diverse behavioural styles, other than those of the charismatic founders, had been tapped at the right times, potentially yes. All the ingredients were there, just not combined in the right way by poor leadership.

Had certain behavioural styles within the broader team been given ample opportunity to contribute, and at the right times, FYRE may actually have been an epic festival instead of an epic failure despite many leadership failings.

There is no doubt that the question of ethics and integrity was also one of the most damaging elements to the train wreck that was FYRE, especially towards the end, but there is also a clear behavioural back story with regards to the teaming and leadership at play. The Netflix documentary “FYRE” captures this beautifully.

The situation is not unique.

Many organisations make and have made, the same mistakes as FYRE, normally on a smaller scale. So how does it get to be as big a fail as Fyre?

To succeed, any major project requires three distinct sets of behaviours working in balance– ACTION, SOCIAL and THINKING. Within these are sub sets of ‘Team Roles’ coined, described and able to be measured thanks to the work of Dr Meredith Belbin of Cambridge.

Most people have a mix of team role behaviours, a blend or a chemistry of them, based on a lifetime’s worth of experience. Some people can adapt across different roles better than others, and some can manage or offset their own weakness better than others.

Where there is too much ‘like with like’ and it is not managed or restrained, biases go unrestrained and imbalance fuels ineffective and even toxic team cultures.

From the very start, FYRE as a leadership cohort, was weighted very heavily for creativity and vision (Plant), salesmanship and opportunity (Resource Investigator) and relentless drive (Shaper).

To their great peril, they were paying little heed to those attempting to focus upon calm coordination (Coordinator), sober analysis (Monitor Evaluator), practical implementation (Implementer), detail and follow through (Completer Finisher) and relevant expertise (Specialist). Friendly and helpful folks ‘(Teamworkers), are also valuable to keep the interpersonal connections and harmony alive, but may not want to rock the boat as things go off the rails.

Sadly it seems the behaviours for ‘telling it like it is’, ‘calmly and wisely delegating’, turning ‘ideas into action’, ‘attention to detail’ and festival ‘expertise’ were actually there in the broader event team or at least on tap. The documentary shows clearly how they were either ignored or actually shut down by a chaotic, shallow and anarchic culture of ‘big picture visions’ and ‘drive’ without restraint.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the many decent ‘players’ caught up in the drama who could see the inevitability of the outcome and yet were still trying desperately to contribute and save the festival. In the end they were unable to - due primarily to an imbalanced culture.

Norwegian Belbin Distributor Anders Reichborn, uses the ‘Belbin Arrow’ as a tool to demonstrate how proper weighting and use of team roles across a project can help the ‘arrow’ to hit its target. Weighting in certain behaviours, especially when not managed, causes the arrow to miss the target, in the case of FYRE, by a mile.

Heavy at the ‘ideas end’ and very light at the ‘making it happen’ end.

Poor examples of charismatic Plants, Shapers and Resource Investigators accessed massive budgets to play with and were indulged by a permissive culture within which any Monitor Evaluator, Specialist or Implementer trying to “tell them what they needed to hear, but actively didn’t want to hear’ were shut down, marginalised or fired.

In the words of Billy McFarland, the founder of FYRE, responding to bad news he didn’t want to hear -

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

In reality what this meant to Billy was to get rid of anyone who said that there was a problem!

Good examples of Plants, Resource Investigators and Shapers who are ‘team leaders’ make great entrepreneurs and can spearhead wonderful innovations, for example, Richard Branson. In Contrast, bad examples of these team roles can leave a trail of tears behind them. The good ones know to surround themselves with people that are different from them, and to tap these people at the right times.

The corollary of this is that even the most diligent and hardworking Coordinators, Monitor Evaluators, Implementers, Completer Finishers and Specialists will be unlikely to get started in an innovative new direction without the former roles at play.

As Jack Kelly in Forbes magazine put it when writing about the leadership failing of FYRE “Just because someone is charismatic, had a modicum of early success and is viewed as the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, it doesn't mean that you should blindly follow him or her.

Yes, spot on Jack, they also need to be able to successfully lead a ‘team’

Innovation is a whole team affair. To make dreams into reality, you need a balanced team.

The Netflix documentary clearly shows frustrated Monitor Evaluators and Specialists who were constantly being shut down, one saying “I tried to warn them, but my warnings were just falling on deaf ears”.

What appeared to be one solid example in the senior of team of an Implementer, who as it turns out was quite literally prepared to do ‘anything’ to help the final phases come together, was actively ignored and improperly engaged throughout the process.

It is sad to watch a tragedy unfold, but if anything can be taken away from the debacle that was FYRE perhaps it is this, “nobody is perfect, but a good team can be”.

For any project to succeed, no matter how clever the idea, you must engage and develop the talent around you. Integrity and humility in leadership is also a critical factor.

To learn more about the Belbin Model visit

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