The Gangs of Disneyland: Five “Special” Ways to Manage a Team

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Yes, you read the title correctly; the Happiest Place on Earth has gangs. On the rough ‘n tumble streets of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, individuals have banded together under such monikers as Walt’s Misfits, The Wonderlanders, Disney Resort Imbeciles, Captain EO’s Rag Tag Band, and Mickey’s Outlaws. Why, you might ask? The same reasons we all join groups – camaraderie, similar interests, and a common purpose.

We wanted to meet people who wanted to go to the park as much as we did. People who were like us: young parents into movies, music, fashion, tattoos and body mods. — L. Aggro Harrington, member of the Main Street Elite

Let’s examine a few things we can learn from the Disneyland Gangs to put the special touches on your team leadership.

Joining the Team Should Feel Special

When the Disneyland gangs first got started, initiation was simply a matter of saying you were a member. This was fine until a few people ruined it by misrepresenting the gangs and creating a negative online presence. It’s no different in the workplace.

Joining a team should feel special. Sure, there might be a few more hoops and “interviewing committees,” but those who become a part of the team will feel like they’ve accomplished something. Plus, by putting in so much effort to join, they are more likely to be active participants when they do.

The Disneyland gangs now have extensive apprenticeship and invitation systems. Many require a formal email requesting membership, scheduled meet ups to teach the club’s code of conduct, and a minimum number of visits to the park each year. Your selection and onboarding process should be just as thorough.

Have Special Ways to Exhibit Membership

When you are in Disneyland, there is no confusing who is in one of the gangs. Like a motorcycle club (minus the motorcycles), members wear matching denim vests with the club’s name and logo. The vests include custom-made patches and are typically covered in limited edition, Disney pins.

As for the club’s name, they are based on specific attractions or themed areas of the park. The Jungle Cruisers are named after the safari ride. The Hitchhikers are based on the hitch-hiking ghosts from The Haunted Mansion.

How does your team distinguish itself from the masses? If vests aren’t your thing, I’ve seen a passion for The Simpsons differentiate a culture, while another group proudly discuss their “sushi Fridays.” Regardless of what it is, figure out what your team likes and make it a symbol for solidarity.

Conduct Special Events Outside the Normal Course of Business

The Disneyland Gangs don’t just get together at the park, i.e. their place of business.

Outside of the park, our club has done everything from Halloween parties to birthday parties, to Thanksgiving dinners, camp outs, barbecues and good ol’ fashioned Disney movie nights… We think of ourselves as a family, and we do everything a family would do. — Michael Stout, co-founder of the Main Street Elite

If you want an engaged team, they need to have opportunities to interact beyond the normal business day (Note: If they are already engaged, they are probably doing this already). Have a family picnic. Go bowling. Do something fun so the team can build real friendships, hence real engagement.

Make a Difference in Special Ways

While the social clubs started as a way to enjoy the park, they have diverted their efforts into philanthropy. The Neverlanders raised more than $5,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. After a typhoon, Pix Pak sent supplies and food to the Philippines. When the Main Street Elite learned that a member’s son was diagnosed with leukemia, charity began to play a larger role with the group.

Like any other family, we knew we needed to step up and help them… We raised more than $4,000 for all of his medicine and medical care… We help our MSE family as much as possible, and when a family member falls, you pick them up. — Michael Stout, co-founder of the Main Street Elite

As powerful as your team’s vision may be, organizing and participating in charitable endeavors unifies a team. It provides opportunities for bonding, networking, and getting to know teammates in different ways and has a direct impact on workplace culture. It also shows that the organization and leadership are concerned with matters beyond financials.

Share Your Specialness

Many of the Disneyland gangs get together for social occasions.

It’s awesome how each social club has its own way of ‘doing the parks,’ so when we hang out with them, which is usually every trip to the park, it’s almost like experiencing the parks again for the first time. — Vj Escote, an original member of Pix Pak

For your team, intradepartmental events can help foster relationship throughout the organization. This not only grows social connections, but will reveal new ways to enhance your teams efforts and increase efficiency.

You don’t need to join a gang to find like-minded people. Your co-workers are waiting for a leader to step up and take control. So grab your denim vest; stake your claim of the office; and proclaim yourselves as the Water Cooler-ists, Printer Room Bandits, or some other nefarious fragment of the work space.

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