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Does Your Team Look Like The Avengers?

I am slumping over my keyboard as I write this blog post.  Why, do you ask?  Because I let my my dear hubby drag me to the midnight showing of The Avengers; a movie that he has talked about ad nauseam for…ohhh…the last two months.

So anyone who has not seen the movie (which is probably most of you), then WARNING! WARNING!  SPOILER ALERT!  If you cringe at the thought of seeing references to the movie before you’ve seen it, then STOP!  Do not pass go…do not collect $200.  If this isn’t you, then read on my friends!

Question: how many of you have been on a team with team members that resemble one of the Avengers?

  • Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), a man who knows everything, has ego for days along with a complimenting sarcastic attitude; or
  • Dr. Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) a guy who struggles hard to hide his demon under a veneer of cool, and is a recluse (and not much of a team player) because of it; or
  • Natalia Romanova (aka The Black Widow), a woman who will always use your words against you and can even use that information to kill you(although I really hope that wouldn’t happen in the workplace); or
  • Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) who is an all-around utility guy who gets the job done; or
  • Thor (aka…umm…Thor) who comes down with a big hammer and acts without complete information most of the time; or
  • Captain America who is your guy who might be out of place, and might not be the strongest or the smartest, but is seems to be the one that can always rally the troops?

The Avengers were literally a team of superheros that, at first, couldn’t get the job done.  They weren’t exactly what you would call a high performing team despite their individual powers.   When was the last time that you were on a team of technical superstars, and you still somehow didn’t get the job done?  Even having a team of superstars, the Avengers couldn’t defeat Loki the first time around.  In fact, the team fell apart at the seams, which is all too common in the real world.  And even if the team didn’t completely implode, at a minimum, they did not perform as well as expected (like the Miami Heat circa 2011…still bitter about that).

Anyway, is it so hard to believe that the Avengers could fail?  Nick Fury brings a team of superheros together and does a horrible job of playing facilitator. He brings them in with no team building  and doesn’t provide complete information, which led to dissension in the ranks.  Every individual superhero had his or her own agenda when they came to the party.  They had their own battles to fight and win, and had virtually nothing in common.  Bruce Banner referred to their team as a chemical mixture designed to produce chaos; and chaos is exactly what they had. Instead of fighting together against a common enemy and towards a common goal like…oh…a little thing like saving the planet…they fought each other.

So how did The Avengers come together to save the day in the end?  First, there was a clarifying moment that resulted in a shared loss, which led them to believe that the status quo and lack of team play was not acceptable.  Second, that same clarifying moment also increased each Avenger’s personal stake, or shared ownership, in accomplishing the mission at hand.  Third, they had a leader in Captain America who could not only develop a plan, but also understood the strengths of each Avenger, and used that knowledge to assign roles and responsibilities  that leveraged each of their strengths for the collective good.  Last, they had a team member, Iron Man, who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for mankind.  In being selfless, having a leader with an action plan, clear roles and responsibilities based on each Avenger’s strength, and knowledge as to how those roles and responsibilities worked together in executing the plan, the Avengers were able to do what they do best, which is to save the day.

Do high performing teams always save the day in the real world?  Not exactly!  However, what we do know is that if those critical components listed above aren’t present, then there is a very high likelihood that the team will fail.  Let’s all pull a page from the Avengers playbook.  Our teams just might be the better for it.

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Tags: avengers, career, high performing teams, human resources, leadership, spoiler, team, teamwork, tech

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Comment by Stephen Christiansen on May 22, 2012 at 11:09am

I've been fortunate enough to have a few teams in my career with multiple "superstars"... and like the analogy of herding cats... it's infuriatingly challenging but ultimately rewarding if the pieces start to fit.

It's funny how you describe Fury... in the comics, he was leader of a WWII commando unit... and eventually was appointed to general. He was the very definition of a leader. But in the movie, in forming the Avengers, he realized he wouldn't be able to lead them, they had to figure that for themselves. Stark would never be one to take orders, neither would Hulk, and Hawkeye and Black Widow were soldiers. So was Captain America, but at the end of the day, his ethics and military acumen proved to the team he was a person that could respect and follow.

And that's key to any high performing group. A strong PM is worth their weight in gold in managing the process, but a strong leader can maximize the potential of the members and keep everyone working together, often by "shielding" his team from adversity and sacrificing him(her)self for the greater good of the team. 

All in all... an excellent piece of movie writing based in real life dynamics... under the most unreal of circumstances! :)

Comment by Bob Johnson on May 21, 2012 at 6:27am

Truly great analogy.  I think the key part of your post is the recognition of the need for leadership.  Someone has to have be responsible for the outcome, and that someone has to have the authority to give guidance and direction that the others acknowledge.  It is critical that there be a shared sense of responsibility in which no one gets credit for doing their job but rather they get credit for the outcome--good or bad.

Comment by Andrew Krzmarzick on May 8, 2012 at 9:39am
Comment by Janet Jardine on May 8, 2012 at 9:08am

Love the analogy.

And now I want to see the movie.

Comment by Bruce Taggart on May 8, 2012 at 8:15am

Our team is basically controlled by a technically challenged "Demigod" that needs a bit of Hulk attitude.

Comment by Corey McCarren on May 7, 2012 at 4:36pm

Great post, unfortunately lots of dream teams can't get past the bickering superstar phase which is imperative to success. The makers of the film did a good job acknowledging that projects work better with a leader by making Captain America essentially assume the team lead role for their mission. I think some people fear that this team lead will diminish their accomplishments, but in reality it allows the team members to show off what they do best and ultimately accomplish their goals.

Comment by Eric Koch on May 4, 2012 at 5:07pm

Like the post Erin. I can't read all of it since I have not yet seen the movie (I'm hoping to catch it this weekend).

I experienced this in sports growing up as I was a part of some teams that was loaded with talent but just couldn't execute when it mattered most, much like what Scott said except I didn't play for the Dream Team.

In my work experience in the corporate world, I must say that I've been fortunate enough not to have experienced this. There may have been some one off situations where our team missed an important target or deadline, but overall it seems like the team dynamics which consisted of unique characteristics got the job done.

I will read this again hopefully on Monday, after I've seen the film.

Comment by Scott Primeau on May 4, 2012 at 2:53pm

This reminds me of some of the disappointing performances from the U.S. men's basketball teams in the mid-2000s. After the initial success of the Dream Team, the pros playing for Team USA had trouble coming together as a team. It was a group of talented, ego-driven players who were great on their own in the spotlight, but had trouble sharing the spotlight.

A team packed with all of the stars isn't always the most effective, high performing team. Role players can be critical to a team's success. In the workplace, who's going to step up to handle the lackluster tasks like taking and sharing notes? Who's willing to write drafts for everyone else to pick apart?

Leaders aren't just the people who create plans and give orders. The people who get the job done and get it done well are also leaders. A good team needs vision, execution, sacrifice, and support (for each other), among other traits.

Thanks for the post! And, I'm still looking forward to seeing the Avengers.

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