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The Avengers: Saving the World from Devastation While Modeling Team Dynamics

How Dr. Strange, Iron Man and the rest of the guardian gang work together.

Much has been written about team culture. Success can be directly tied to communications within an organizational landscape. While we all know that communication usually breaks down due to people issues, the good news is communication styles and behaviors are learned and can be changed.

This is especially important in a group setting because, most times, we don’t get the luxury of picking our teams. Are we doomed forever to work in inefficient teams with conflicting personalities at the workplace? Perhaps the answer can be found in a group of extraordinary individuals: The Avengers.

Earlier this year, when Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Endgame hit streaming services, I took a look at one of today’s most popular teams through the lenses of Team Chemistry and Tribal Leadership.

While watching the movie, I recognized the different work styles of Pioneer, Driver, Integrator and Guardian. These styles were introduced in the 2017 Harvard Business Review article The New Science of Team Chemistry.

Authors Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort, both of Deloitte, looked at personality types through the filter of team dynamics. Beyond being introverted or extroverted, various personality characteristics impact team members’—or in this case, superheroes’—ability to process information, collaborate, and execute plans.

Let’s look a few Avengers using the Team Chemistry framework.

Dr. Stephen Strange is our Pioneer. While he undergoes the most profound transformation, beginning as a surgeon and ending as a mystic, he is consistently outgoing and spontaneous. According to Team Chemistry, additional traits of Pioneer include: focused on the big picture (remember the 14,000,605 possible outcomes Strange saw?) adaptable, drawn to risk and imaginative. As a surgeon, Strange solved complex problems and developed imaginative solutions based on a master plan.

Driver traits include; quantitative, logical, focused, competitive, experimental, and curious. This is Tony Stark/Iron Man all the way. When Stark and Strange meet during Avengers: Infinity War, they clash because Stark is also competitive and does not like to take orders. Drivers share the “call-the-shots” trait with Pioneers. Some friction can exist here.

The third work style in Team Chemistry is the Integrator, who is diplomatic, empathetic, traditional, relationship-oriented, intrinsically motivated and non-confrontational. This describes Captain America. He is energized by collaboration, communication, trust and respect.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Avengers: Endgame than when we see Captain America, five years after Thanos’ big snap, coordinating a support group for survivors.

The last workgroup type is Guardian, who is loyal, methodical, reserved, detail-oriented, practical and structured. Peter Parker/Spider Man is a Guardian. He is energized by plans and consistency, so it is no wonder that Stark and Parker align. Their shared traits include valuing individual work and intellect, and being averse to taking orders.

In addition to different work styles, the Avengers also progress as a tribe through the stages described in the 2011 book Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. The authors theorize that organizations are made up of tribes—naturally occurring groups of about 20-150 people bound together by a culture. Each tribe is characterized by one of five stages of behavior:

Stage 1 (2% of organizations): “Life Sucks,” where the feeling is alienation and actions undermine the culture, similar to gang-like behavior.

Stage 2 (25% of organizations): “My Life Sucks” and is characterized by the feeling of separation and ineffective actions, an apathetic culture.

Avengers equivalent: Thrown together in 2012’s The Avengers, our heroes were like any new work group. They crossed their arms in judgement and never really got engaged. Who could forget Bruce Banner’s epic quote, “I mean, what are we, a team? No, no, no. We're a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We're ... we're a time-bomb.”

Stage 3 (50% of organizations): There is an “I’m great (and you’re not)” attitude, with feelings of satisfaction through personal achievement.  Characteristics include silo behavior and the feeling that others are inferior to you.

Avengers equivalent: In Age of Ultron, the group moves to Stage 3 by expressing insecurity. The film centers on Stark putting together a peacekeeping force of other characters. Stark clearly exhibits Stage 3 characteristics with his big idea. Together with Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, he creates an AI program to defend the earth without consulting the rest of the team—and the program turns into megalomaniacal robot Ultron.

Stage 4 (22% of organizations): more collaboration, with a “we’re great” attitude.  There is a feeling of stable partnerships and actions that are team-oriented.

Avengers equivalent: In Infinity War, the Avengers unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet—the evil Thanos. They fail as he wipes out half of all life (including some Avengers) with a snap of his fingers. The team is broken apart.

Finally, Stage 5 (2% of organizations): the crème de la crème of culture. The thinking evolves from “we’re great” to “life is great.” This group competes with what’s possible, not with other tribes, with its sights set on a greater social cause.

Avengers equivalent: In Endgame, the group learns the true value of a team. No single Avenger could have stopped Thanos. However, collectively they were able to use their skills to accomplish separate tasks to achieve results and defeat Thanos. This is clearly Stage 5 thinking—that culture and values drive the performance that makes the organization great.

Leaders should understand that the answer to every problem is a person. Using the Team Chemistry framework along with tribal insights can nudge workgroups toward a more agile culture that values quick but informed decisions. It is a way to navigate better team dynamics. Leaders need to understand that chemistry is just as important as competence. Endgame is about the transformation of a cross-functional team of superheroes into an agile group.  We know them as: The Avengers.

Tracey Rettig is a marketing specialist at Kistler Instrument Corporation. A native of Detroit, Rettig is pursuing her master’s degree in Strategic Communication from Michigan State University. Rettig has more than 15 years’ experience in B2B marketing communications in the industrial sector including aerospace & defense, automotive, manufacturing, renewable energy, semiconductor, transportation and workplace protection industries.

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