Does “The Avengers” Teach Us Anything About Teamwork?
“The Avengers” is now the third highest grossing film of all time (domestic and worldwide). The film is about famous superheroes coming together as a team to battle evil. Are the millions of people watching this film learning anything about the film’s main premise – teamwork?
Yes and no.
Naturally viewers are not heading to the movie theater to receive an educational lesson on how to tap into the strength of teamwork or how to lead a team to flourish. However, viewers will walk away with at least one key insight about teamwork – whether they are aware of it or not.
The film is at its strongest around the idea that every person has a unique strength(s) they can express that will help a team become successful.
Talent or Character Strength?
The film presents its core idea in terms of the innate abilities and natural talents the superheroes have. It leads us to think that these talents are the unique contributions to the team. Sure, we can easily see the developed abilities, or talents, such as Hawkeye’s ability to shoot arrows with uncanny accuracy from afar or Hulk’s power to crush anything in his path in fits of rage. But, this is unsatisfactory. In the end, each of the superheroes’ talent comes down to one thing –fighting. They shoot, punch, crush and smash their foes.
Talent for fighting – by whatever method – does not adequately distinguish the characters or teach us much about teamwork.
Instead, we need to learn who these characters are. What are their unique character strengths? Discovering these will not only help us connect with the characters but will help us understand their strength contribution to the team. And, as is the case for any movie, we can practice observing and looking for the character strengths (strengths-spotting) in each of the superheroes.
In Black Widow, we see a clever, suave woman who quietly observes her environment and the individuals around her. With savvy, she tricks Loki, the evil mastermind, to reveal his plan for getting the Avenger team to implode. In part, this revolves around her sharing an emotional story of how she wants to make amends for her checkered past.
She is keenly aware of the emotions of herself and others, and is able to communicate them while remaining mindful of the social environment. Thus, Black Widow displays social intelligence, and she wields it better than any other member of the team.
Iron Man deploys his signature strengths of creativity and humor in any context he is in – loving, working, playing and fighting. He seems to display many of the attributes of “the creative personality,” including being independent, unconventional, and having many ideas. But he is also demanding, driven and volatile. Ultimately, it is his creativity (in the form of “cognitive flexibility”) that finishes the battle and saves the planet.
Bruce Banner brings forth exemplary self-regulation where he explains he constantly monitors and controls his rage to prevent the Hulk from emerging. He has done this successfully for years but eventually he depletes this “muscle” of self-regulation and pure uncontrolled rage flows out as he attacks those on his team.
However, his practice of self-regulation over the years – building it up like a muscle – appears to have served him well because in the final battle he is able to direct it toward fighting Loki and the attacking army rather than his team.
Hawkeye displays a strong prudence strength as he cautiously observes from afar before he acts, not unlike a bird of prey perching on the mountain before it strikes.
Thor’s highest strength is bravery, as he’s the only superhero to not back down but to directly fight Hulk on Hulk’s initial rampage.
Captain America displays many of the strengths under the virtue of courage (e.g., bravery, perseverance, honesty) but it is his leadership that is most signature to him. His leadership emerges strongly during the final fight as he orchestrates the team in terms of the direction and type of attack that each team member will employ.
Coming Together as a Team
Bringing together a collection of strong personalities is naturally going to lead to conflict, ego head-butting and heated moments. Just as newly formed groups and teams will typically go through a process called “storming” while members jockey for position and the group attempts to figure out its identity, this is also true for the Avengers team in the early stages.
Eventually, each superhero brings their unique signature strengths (and talents) together to fight in the final battle.
Despite a lack of deep character development for most of the superheroes, we get some clarity on “who” these characters are when they are examined through the lens of character strengths. This helps us connect with the superheroes and allows us to more clearly see how each one adds value to the team.
The result is what all teams strive for: The team-as-a-whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Learn more about teamwork and the qualities of effective teams. Learn how to create productive and engaged teams. The VIA Institute on Character is hosting its first Team Workshop later this month. Register today!
Baumeister, R. F., Matthew G., DeWall, C., N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1773-1802.
Johnson, P., & Wallace, C. (2011). Increasing individual and team performance in an organizational setting through the situational adaptation of regulatory focus. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 190-201.
Muraven, M. (2010). Building self-control strength. Practicing self-control leads to improved self-control performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 465-468.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to buid virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Seibert, S. E., Wang, G., & Courtright, S. H. (2011). Antecedents and consequences of psychological and team empowerment in organizations: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(5), 981-1003.
Simonton, D. K. (2000). Creativity: Cognitive, developmental, personal, and social aspects. American Psychologist, 55, 151-158.
Thun, B., & Kelloway, E. K. (2011). Virtuous leaders: Assessing character strengths in the workplace. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 28, 270-283.
West, B. J., Patera, J. L., & Carsten, M. K. (2009). Team level positivity: Investigating positive psychological capacities and team level outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 249-267.
Niemiec, R. (2012). Does “The Avengers” Teach Us Anything About Teamwork?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 7, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/character-strengths/2012/06/does-the-avengers-teach-us-anything-about-teamwork/