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The Avengers: A Model Organization

Nick Fury: There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could…

Fury is talking about The Avengers, of course. When I look at this quote from Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie blockbuster of 2012, a few words jump out at me: together, remarkable, needed, and fight. Let’s take a closer look to see what the lessons are for us and our organizations.

Remarkable– Some of the synonyms for remarkable are exceptional, noteworthy, impressive, outstanding, and super. What remarkable is not: normal, ordinary, typical, usual. With The Avengers, just one look at their uniforms lets you know that you’re not dealing with typical people. What kind of people are in your organization? Are remarkable people lining up to be a part? Or are they taking their talent, knowledge, creativity, and insights elsewhere? Forget everyone suddenly becoming remarkable. What if just 10% of your organization was considered remarkable? Or what if they could be 3% more remarkable tomorrow than they were yesterday? There’s a good possibility that your organization holds the keys to this progress through professional development, community engagement, and collaborative endeavors. And, as the people in your organization grow more remarkable so too will your organization.  They may not need to save the world from an alien attack, but they can achieve more. Make it your singular focus to give them the keys.

Together– What I found most intriguing about The Avengers is their ability to be petty and egotistical and to fight with each other. What I wanted to stand up in the theater and yell is, “Hey, guys, could we all focus on the task at hand?” (Perhaps it reminds you of some meetings you’ve been in.) Near the end of the movie, I’m left with these doubts: “Are they really going to come through? Can they save humanity from total annihilation? And what is that thing that looks like a big serpent, fish-type ship that’s swimming through a dark hole in the sky?” I don’t want to give away the ending in case you haven’t seen the movie yet (and perhaps you stumbled on this post and thought it was a movie review), but let’s just say that The Avengers were clutch (to use an often-used sports term). They communicated. They responded. They assigned team members to tasks suitable to their strengths and skills. They helped out and didn’t care who got the credit. Are your team members responding at the right time to advance the cause of the organization? Or are individuals still caught up in what their title is, whose responsibility it is, or who gets the recognition? Initiatives in social business and communications and community engagement need all on board. Is your organization in this together?

Needed– Needed is an interesting word. In this context it implies that there are times when they are not needed. Those are the times when Dr. Bruce Banner can be in India or Tony Stark can run his multi-billion dollar company Stark Industries or Steve Rogers can get a nearly 70-year nap. But needed means that it’s imperative. It’s now. There’s no one else who can do this. Are you asking so much of your employees, members, supporters, and/or customers (do this training, buy that, go to this event, be in Tuesday afternoon’s meeting), that when they’re really needed, they can’t respond? They’re weary. They’re overburdened. You can’t always operate at Code Red. Be selective in your appeals. Less is more. Give them time to get refreshed.

   Fight– The Avengers are an intelligent, talented group of individuals. But what they are mostly is powerful. They were called on in this time of global need to bring the fight, and that’s what they did. No other police or military force could do what they do. When it came down to it, it wasn’t the brilliant scientist or industrial leader or any of their other personas the world needed, it was the fighters. Chances are that your organization is not calling on your constituents as fighters. Recognize your employees, members, and/or supporters as multi-faceted, but focus like a laser beam on what it is your organization really needs from them. Realize too that the needs may vary from time to time, but play to the strengths of individuals. They’re not all the same. They’re not merely cogs in a machine. If you want a responsive, energized, and engaged organization, you’ll ask them to bring their strengths and you won’t bog them down in bureaucracy or mindless tasks.

What lessons do you see for organizations from The Avengers?

  1. June 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Really like it when we can become “superheroes,” even in the smallest way, for our organization. Especailly liked doing what’s NEEDED and playing to your team members’ strengths.

    • Jay S. Daughtry
      June 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Thanks for commenting, Deb. Glad to hear that it resonated. Also, “need” should be genuine; people know when it’s insincere.

  2. June 6, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Nice post Jay. I’ll need to preface my comments by saying that I haven’t seen the movie yet (but plan to) however, I’m pretty familiar with each of the characters individually and as part of the Avengers through my childhood comic book collecting. I think you pick up on a number of really key points that are common across organizations of all shapes and sizes.

    Of them two really stand out to me “remarkable” and “together”. Remarkable strikes me as tough because all organizations talk the talk, but very few walk the walk. It’s hard to be truly remarkable in an organization if the organizational culture doesn’t support it – despite what’s in the mission statement – so the idea of a “remark-ability drain” is very real as you point out. I think it’s incumbent on all organizations to really embrace being remarkable both inside and out of ones time on the job. After all, it’s the people that form the organizational fabric that keeps everything together. However, it cannot be contrived – people have gotten to smart for that – and I think it has to be reinforced every day. There are plenty of great examples of organizations that get it…Google, 37Signals, Apple and they are thriving while many others flounder so there must be something to it. We also have to remember that remarkable will look as different as each individual, so you can’t really put to tight of parameters on it. You may be a remarkable customer service guy, but I’m a wiz at product development…regardless it takes a whole lot of different strengths (like the Avengers) to create a remarkable team.

    Together is interesting to me because as you described the early stages of the plot because it pretty much is a textbook example of Tuckman’s Group Development Model (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing). I think too often groups fail in their missions because they aren’t allowed to follow that natural progression. The strife that takes place during the storming phase is usually seen as a sign of distress, instead of healthy group development, and groups are disbanded. However, as demonstrated in the film, if the group is allowed to proceed, most differences can be put aside, individual motives quashed and a true team emerges. Any so called high-performing team that doesn’t go through this process I’d say were merely a merry band of “group thinkers” too myopic to scrutinize the ideas of the group for fear of alienating themselves.

    Pretty thought provoking post overall, four simple words that have so much value and meaning. I’m glad you posted!

    • Jay S. Daughtry
      June 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      I really appreciate your comments, Dave. You’ve written enough that it could be its own blog post! Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. June 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I really wish more organizations would embrace the ability to be remarkable and together. Being remarkable is not embraced because it is different and it scares people. I don’t think this is a problem with just associations, but in all office spaces. It is rare that remarkable qualities are encouraged and let flourish simply because of their place within the organization and the perceived need of the remarkable talents.
    All the remarkable people in the avengers seemed pretty bored prior to getting the call to action. They were not able to use their skills appropriately (except maybe Black Widow- and I’m still not sure her skills qualify as remarkable) until they were the second to last option (last, of course, being a nuclear bomb) for saving the world. Maybe what is more important is to realize that people didn’t believe in them until they finished the job.
    I love that you also addressed the “together” aspect of the movie. I liked that they all didn’t all get along and had their own flaws. Talking through and being vocal with your opinions and your own agendas is important to any group and I was happy that was written into the movie and only very rarely do I see that encouraged.
    Sorry for the spoilers!

    • Jay S. Daughtry
      June 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mandy. I like that you stated, “All the remarkable people in the avengers seemed pretty bored prior to getting the call to action.” I think the point here is that your employees, members, customers are bored until their engaged. The challenge is giving them reasons to engage more- more frequently and for longer periods of time. You also hit on a key point with “Talking through and being vocal with your opinions and your own agendas is important to any group”. These perspectives and actions with a healthy respect for others in the group and a genuine appreciation of their strengths, skills, talents, and insights can lead to a stronger outcome. Most people and, consequently, most teams lack the security and confidence to be able to pull this off consistently.

  4. Craig Sorrell
    June 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I know you are basing this post off of the movie, so I will go with that. The thing about the Avengers, is that they represent opposites. Thor, a god who was cast out of Asgard because his father wanted to teach him humility because he had none. He is balanced by Captain America, who Steve Rogers always only thought of himself as just a man. Humble and full of humility. The exact opposite of the God that Thor is. Tony Stark, Iron Man, is brains. A genius that can think himself out of stations. He relies or intelligence and science to win. His exact opposite is Hulk who doesn’t think he just smashes and uses brute strength. (Bruce Banner is the exact opposite of Hulk, but Banner would be a terrible person to fight along the Avengers, so they created a Team of opposites). Now straying from the books, but we have established you are going by the movie, you have Black Widow. A manipulative, liar, that will do whatever it takes to get information. Her complete opposite, is the soldier, with heart, and no deceit, Hawkeye. Just for reference the original members who were not represented were Ant-man (Henry Pym who actually became Giant Man in the second book) who was the complete opposite of Janet van Dyne who was Wasp. And in case your wondering even in the comics the original team was made of opposites (Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America were not original members). But your blog post references the movie so we will go with the world that was created on screen.

    Now if you take a team and take exact opposites, you can feed off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This is great but it is extremely short term. Having a team like this is not sustainable. It takes extreme circumstances for them to actually work together, but the truth is, on the day to day they work terrible together. Now as you reference in your blog about them working together, they actually do not do it well. In fact, if you worked in any orginazation that the day to day operations could not get done because the complete opposites keep fighting. Not a good business model at all. This would make a terrible business model and even more terrible as an association model.

    Now, Nick Fury would be, for all intents purposes, the executive director. The thing is, Nick Fury is a manipulative liar that will say what you want to hear. Even in the movie, which is the Nick Fury from the Ultimates Universe, this Nick Fury would be the worst boss imaginable. No one wants to listen to a guy that lies all the time. He only serves himself, and isn’t looking out for the betterment of the team. Every play is a psychological play from him, and again, the telling people only what they want to hear is good for the short term, but it doesn’t work for the day to day. Could you imagine if the executive director of your association only told lies? You wouldn’t not stick around very long. Which brings me to my next point.

    The Avengers is based on a team of complete opposites, and a director that lies. Because of this, the Avengers have a very high turnover rate. This high turnover rate creates major problems with a team dynamic. How can you trust the person you are going to battle with (whether it be save the universe from Loki trying to get revenge on his half-brother or even a Skree invasion, or if, it is an association problem like boosting membership through creative advertising.) if you know they won’t be around very long. The truth is, you can’t. Even more true, is that you won’t and you won’t rely on that person very much. When you know that your teammate will not be there tomorrow, how involved will your projects be? The answer is simple, they won’t.

    You reference being remarkable. And yes, the Avengers, are remarkable. But they are only remarkable as individuals. As a team, they are not. They are a terrible team, that is more flawed than good. Yes, they save the world and they are “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” but each hero is mighty in their own right. Notice the tag like isn’t “Earth’s Mightiest Team”. Even their tag line only focuses on the individual. The reason the Avengers are so entertaining, is because they are so flawed. Having remarkable individuals is great, but again, it is not sustainable. Apply this to associations; if you don’t have a remarkable team, then you won’t have a remarkable organization. You will have high turnover, lots of ‘inter-office” fighting, and even worse, lies will drive you. This just doesn’t work very well. The fact of the matter you don’t want to be the Avengers. You want your association to be the exact opposite of the Avengers.

    I see what you are saying that they focused on the strengths but they only do that for a major fight. They do not do that when they live day to day. To have a a complete team, it is necessary to focus on the strengths all the time. Not just in an immediate time of need. That is important too, but if you don’t find the strengths and focus on the 100% of the time, then no matter how remarkable the individuals are, you will be destined for failure.

    This strays from the movie, but to prove that the long term plan for the Avengers is not sustainable (nor will your plan if you try to make your association like the Avengers) read Civil War. The remarkable individuals, fight with each other. They neglect their time of need, and are more concerned with fighting with each other. Because they have been lied to, and because they are learning that they are not the most important individual, they fight. They self destruct. This will happen over time, if you don’t work as a team 100% of the time. Like the Avengers, if your association does not work together on everything, and only works when extreme circumstances arise, you will create internal fighting. Your association will, like the Avengers, will become more toxic and dangerous than good. Sure the fighting will not take out miles of real estate on Manhattan, but the fighting will cause the ultimate destruction of your association.

    In conclusion, do not be like the Avengers. Be better than the Avengers. Be a remarkable person, but also be a remarkable teammate. If we set our work goals only to suit ourselves, like the Avengers do, we will fail.

    • Jay S. Daughtry
      June 8, 2012 at 8:47 am

      Wow! I thought Dave’s comments were lengthy, but, Craig, you get the award for comments longer than the original blog post! You make some valid points. Yes, my post is based solely on the movie and more specifically from the one Nick Fury quote. My knowledge of these characters beyond that is limited. Interesting that with your deeper understanding of these heroes, you can point more to their personalities, motivations, and flaws. This brings to mind a couple of thoughts for organizations. Who are you bringing in as experts who may know more about a given topic than you do? Taking a step back and letting others have the podium is the ultimate building block for collaboration. Secondly, are you allowing for contrarian insights or do things have to be the company way with everyone in line? Do you quash the uprising for the sake of perceived unity? Thanks, Craig, for lending your vantage point to this discussion.

  1. December 31, 2012 at 10:35 am

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