What the Avengers teach us about designing a productive, respectful, and dare I say, fun team
I however, have always been interested in the dynamics of the team. How it was created. How it functions. How it works. And how it breaks.
Through the multiple storylines we witness Captain America’s inclusive and consultative approach to leadership; physicist Bruce Banner’s reliance on evidence to inform decisions; Thor’s fervour and excitement to run directly towards problems; and Tony Stark’s innovation and brash defiance against standard protocols – but always done with the intent to ensure every angle of an issue has been considered.
I don’t have the swagger of Nick Fury, but I have learned a few things about creating effective teams through more than fifteen years of public health management. Below are some steps and tips which I have found helpful when designing a team or being promoted into management. Best of luck in your next adventure!
Start planning your team … even before anyone arrives
The seed to create the Avengers is planted in Nick Fury’s mind long before any superheroes are assembled. Similarly, I have found it useful to envision what your team will look like before you bring on new staff.
- How will co-workers relate to each other?
- What will the tone, culture, and vibe of your team be?
- How do you want other managers or your director to describe the team?
- Answering these and similar questions will help determine what is important to you as a manager and as such, what type of messaging and impression should be conveyed to team members.
- Engage in visioning exercises and refer to evidence-informed models or frameworks to provide direction.
Find a mentor.
- Apply for “Acting Manager” roles to gain experience and to assess if management is a fit for you.
Nick Fury was very selective in who he recruited. Likewise, so should you. Hiring and recruiting the strongest team members possible is one of the best ways to build an effective and respectful group. In my experience, skills can be taught and on-the-job training provided. What can’t be learned (as easily) is humility, respect, and a genuine affinity for collaboration.
Despite interview guides some organizations are required to use, only two questions have guided me when debriefing an interview:
- Is the candidate a good person?
- Will they fit with our team?
If the answers to these questions are a resounding ‘Yes!’, then be confident in moving forward with their application. If hesitations exist, be confident in removing them from consideration.
- Focus interviews on behavioural and scenario-based questions. This will illustrate a candidate’s critical thinking skills and the ability to adapt.
- Look for honest answers vs. polished answers.
- Always include team members in the interview process. Their body language and feedback to a potential addition to the team will be invaluable.
- Gather good people, teach them, then get out of the way. Trust them to do what they were hired to do.
Cap has an indestructible shield, Thor has his hammer, Tony uses an iron suit and Hulk … well, Hulk just has anger issues. But these specific tools prepare the superheroes for the tasks ahead. Likewise, as team manager, it is pertinent early on to survey your team on what is needed to accomplish their deliverables. This may take the shape of team development exercises, professional development courses, or simply having an open-door policy for any urgent issues which arise.
Not every problem can be predicted and planned for. But if a strong foundation is established based on respect and regular, progressive supports; team members will feel more prepared and confident to reach a solution.
- Create a safe inclusive working environment.
- With team input, establish team norms, team values, and a team vision.
- Learn everyone’s work and communication style and adjust yourself accordingly.
- Introduce mechanisms for team decision-making and solution-based problem solving.
- Regularly ask yourself: “How can I help my team improve?”
Ready for Battle
None of the Avenger movies go smoothly. Mis-communication occurs, arguments erupt, plans dissolve when a crisis occurs. The same is true in management. But if a team is built around mutual respect, common understanding, and the pursuit of clearly-understood objectives; the more likely a team will overcome obstacles and be successful.
Use the first ninety days to set a tone and lead by example. Establish your areas of focus, what team habits to foster, inefficiencies to address, and different strategies to explore.
As the team rolls along, continue to watch and listen for signals that problem areas are emerging such as missed deadlines or feelings of distrust. These rough patches will undoubtedly occur. But remain calm and engage team members in solution-based thinking around these problem areas. Allow team members to see that failing is fine as long as lessons are drawn from it and that you will always have their back.
Your main role as a manager is to remove barriers and ensure your team has all the tools needed to do their best work. If you relentlessly pursue these objectives, your team will be ready for any battles to come!
- Communicate clearly. Coach constantly.
- Understand the dynamics of power and minimize yours when you can.
- Regularly ask your team members: “How can I make your job easier?”
- Lead with Humility. Listen. Learn.
Article photo by Marvel