The Avengers, a.k.a. Earth’s mightiest heroes, had some very useful words of advice in their most recent blockbuster movie Avengers: Age of Ultron that can be flawlessly applied to effective change management techniques. As a disparate group of extraordinary individuals, teamwork might not come naturally to all of them but their effectiveness as a team is undeniable. Here's what they can teach the rest of us about change management.
Ironman: “We're the Avengers...how do we cope with something like that?”
Captain America: “Together.”
Successful change management is about planning and team building. A team leader should learn how they complement one another’s strengths, minimize weaknesses, and identify every opportunity to learn from each other.
Whether you’re assembling a new team or utilizing an existing one, your team will need differing skills and mind sets. But skills and personalities should always be considered with an ultimate, common goal. Even conflicting personalities can work together depending on their strengths: Some people like to work quickly, some like to work more carefully and weigh options before proceeding. Some prefer to deal from a position of strength, others look for maximum buy-in. Depending on the issue or process, any of these can be the right method at the time; this is an opportunity for your stakeholders to learn from each other.
Good planning also means involving the stakeholders along the way, building buy-in and give them some sense of ownership of the change process and its outcomes. Acting as a team creates cohesion and camaraderie and will build lasting relationships in the workplace beyond the current change project.
Iron Man: “Okay guys, good talk.”
Hydra Guard: “No it wasn’t!"
Tony Stark’s aggressive style of affecting change was clearly appropriate for a room full of Hydra agents with assault weapons. But for a meeting room of stakeholders with legitimate concerns, not so much. This is because conflict resolution is one of the most important components of a successful change process, and it needs to be handled more delicately than the Iron Man can manage.
Through the change process you'll find many opportunities to use the most expedient method of resolving a conflict when dealing with a team with divisive issues or perhaps a fellow change manager who stubbornly believes that their way is the best. But the expedient method is often the most damaging.
When you’re in the midst of conflict resolution if all you’re leaving is a pile of bodies on the floor, you’re not doing everything you can to listen. Pay attention to your stakeholders, even when you're certain the other person is incorrect: There still might be a takeaway lesson in how the conflict was managed.
The Hydra agent on the floor wasn't right to take a stubborn and hostile stance, and he paid the price. But he wasn't wrong in his assessment of the outcome.
Black Widow: “I adore you [pushes Banner off a ledge]. But I need the other guy.”
Proper resource management is critical skill for a change leader. Who do you need for the job, and how will they best contribute? One associate might be fast and productive; another might be more thoughtful and strategic. One might have an excellent sense of the big picture; another might have a keen methodical understanding of the details.
An excellent team leader knows who they need and when they need it.
But whatever you do, don’t push stakeholders off a cliff. Even in the best scenario, it’s going to be bad for morale.
Captain America: “If you get hurt, hurt ‘em back. If you get killed, walk it off.”
The phrase “Failure is not an option” is nonsense to the experienced leader; failure is sometimes the only available teacher. But that’s no reason to go down in the first round. Take inventory of your successes and failures, and learn from current mishaps. Most importantly, keep fighting.
Engage your people, and manage every setback as a lesson learned. Through open and active lines of communication, reassure them that going forward there will be more, sometimes painful, lessons to learn. Being able to recover quickly from a failure is sign of a mature and capable team. Like any good coach, the trick is to encourage and inspire the team to always get up one more time than they've been knocked down.
Thor: “After the battle, there should be revels.”
Celebrate the victories appropriate to the moment. Not to suggest that every successful test or milestone is worthy of a party at Avengers Tower, but the bigger the win, the bigger revels. And never let a success, no matter how minute, go without acknowledgement.
The Avengers are a fictional team of heroes who work together to overcome impossible adversity both within and without to save, and sometimes change, the world. In change management, we mere mortals are battling to do the same regularly. We should take our inspiration wherever we can find it: from the success in other departments, other companies, other leaders or even fictional world-saving super teams. It’s important to respect your team for their individual contributions, as well as how they each complement the team. Each member is a future team leader who can learn from your best example.