Updated: Sep 5
Remember when the Avengers weren't The Avengers? Back when Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk were flying solo. There was a time (back in 2012) when The Avengers was just an idea of something bigger, documented in Nick Fury's Avenger's Initiative file. If it wasn't for Loki posing an impending threat to Earth, Nick Fury wouldn't have set his plans in motion to assemble a team of the Earth's mightiest heroes. Assembling The Avengers didn't come with its' pain points.
Using Brian Tuckman's stages of team development, The Avengers go through the challenge of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. To learn what the stages are and how it applies to The Avengers, check out this newest episode of The Everyday PM or keep reading for more.
The forming stage involves a period of orientation and getting acquainted. You can remember it as the getting to know you stage. The “team” is not so much a team as The Avengers story begins. After the tesseract is activated and allows Loki to enter Earth, Fury engages what we later come to know as the Avengers Initiative. Fury tasks Natasha with recruiting Banner to help with gamma radiation research goes after Rogers and gives Iron Man the rundown of the project scope from Fury.
Because uncertainty is high during this stage, people are looking for leadership and authority. A member who asserts authority or is knowledgeable may be looked to take control or become the team leader. Team members are asking such questions as “What does the team offer me?” “What is expected of me?” “Will I fit in?” Most interactions are social as members get to know each other, which is exactly what we saw in The Avengers movie as the team congregated in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters.
The storming stage is the most difficult and critical stage to pass through. It is a period marked by conflict and competition as individual personalities emerge. Remember that scene in The Avengers when Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor start going after each other? It's a visual depiction of what the storming stage is. Team performance may actually decrease in this stage because energy is put into unproductive activities. Members may disagree on team goals, and subgroups and cliques may form around strong personalities or areas of agreement. To get through this stage, members must work to overcome obstacles, accept individual differences, and work through conflicting ideas on team tasks and goals.
In the norming stage, a consensus develops around who the leader or leaders are (Captain America), and individual member roles (The Avengers). Interpersonal differences begin to be resolved, and a sense of cohesion and unity emerges. Team performance increases during this stage as members learn to cooperate and begin to focus on team goals, like the scene with Iron Man and Captain America working together to fight the baddies from stealing the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane. Nick Fury delivers a motivating speech to the team, saying that
“there were talks about The Avengers Initiative to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when you needed them to fight the battles that we never could. Coulson died still believing in that idea. In heroes.”
However, the harmony is precarious, and if disagreements re-emerge the team can slide back into storming.
In the performing stage, consensus and cooperation have been well-established and the team is mature, organized, and well-functioning. There is a clear and stable structure, and members are committed to the team’s mission. We see Captain America giving orders very militaristic to each team member and none of the team members see it as bossing them around. There’s mutual respect amongst the team and they see Cap as their leader. The team is focused on problem-solving and meeting team goals.
Solidifying a performing team, we hear it from Tony Stark himself in the scene with Loki when Loki thinks he has Tony trapped in Stark Towers. “We’re sort of a team,” says Tony to Loki and refers to his team as “Earth’s mightiest heroes” going on to describe each team member. If that isn’t a sign of team comradery, then I don’t know what is.
In the adjourning stage, most of the team’s goals have been accomplished – In this case, taking down Loki and the rest of the alien baddies. The emphasis is on wrapping up final tasks and documenting the effort and results. As the workload is diminished, individual members may be reassigned to other teams, and the team disbands. We see this as the team goes off on their own.
There may be regret as the team ends, so a ceremonial acknowledgment of the work and success of the team can be helpful – SHAWARMA! If the team is a standing committee with ongoing responsibility, members may be replaced by new people, and the team can go back to a forming or storming stage and repeat the development process.
Project manager or not, I hope you enjoyed this rundown of the five stages of team development with Marvel's The Avengers. Let me know if you caught any more PM-related lessons while watching this film. Hopefully, you'll catch these and more in your next viewing.
Until next time... take care!
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Ann Campea, MSPM, MPH, PMP
Director of Project Management for One & All
Certified Program/Project management professional with over a decade of experience in product development, consumer goods, tech, and healthcare industries.