I love indulging in action movies from time to time: all that kicking a**e, hurling cars and saving the world before breakfast is enough to take anyone away from any day to day mundanity of life and far less hard work than watching one which is critically aclaimed and having to think up anything meaningful to say about it afterwards. And so was thrilled when my kids asked to go and see ‘Captain America: Civil War', the latest Avengers film, last weekend.
Not only was it highly entertaining and the perfect excuse to sit still for 2 hours, but it also gave me more than a gentle reminder of the various boardroom tussles I’ve witnessed (and dodged) over the years: the ones where external challenges lead to raised tensions in management meetings; where the pressures brought on by not-performing-as-expected lead to perfectly talented people exhibiting mercurial behaviours; and where in the face of mounting stress, the teams turn on, rather than towards, each other.
Checking out the lineup of superheroes, I was saddened to see there was no Wonder Woman included: not only have I been a staunch believer since I was five years old that saving the world is made easier sporting massive hair and even bigger pants, but surely her emotional intelligence and mediation skills could be just the superpowers they all seemed to be missing here??
For those who may not have seen (or ever want to…) the film, the plot is largely as first expected: goodies versus baddies, with goodies up against the clock to stop the largest threat to humankind. However the main deviation from the standard approach in this episode, is that it centres on the chaos which ensues when it turns out that the largest threat to mankind is actually a side-show. And that the baddies sole goal is to incite civil war among the goodies. Cue rapid escalating violence within the team of Avengers themselves….
Of course, in the management and boardrooms across the country, there are no magic shields, laser eyes or webbed fingers to be found deployed across meeting room tables in order to lay into a colleagues’ latest argument for budget cuts (normally in every other team but their own...) or defend a lacklustre sales & marketing campaign. But that doesn’t meant that when things get tough - through competition, market conditions or just plain bad luck - people don’t use every other power they have at their disposal to fight: undercutting, sidelining, lobbying, bullying. You name it, they can all put it to just as strong effect in the business world. And it can feel just as deadly if you’re in the mix.
I’ve heard of one company who were up against it having missed their sales targets by two successive quarters, where an executive used to regularly hold informal meetings with his colleagues prior to the more formal minuted ones, to get them onside with his thoughts and suss out how they were feeling about various plans. So far, so good ( or at least common) you might think. The difference here was that he would then make use of any information gained in trust to verbally destroy others once they were in a more public forum, in the vain hope that this would make him look better to the potential buyers who were circling & save him from the axe if it came to that. Nice.
And in another, a special (extraordinary) two hour meeting had to be held by the senior management team to make the critical decision of which coffee machine to buy for the kitchen. It had got to this point because two parties with opposing views wouldn’t back down and the end result of which was that a vote needed to be called to settle the matter once and for all. Seriously? Over a coffee machine?
Presumably after said vote, this led to one party feeling victorious over the other (whilst the others no doubt stood scratching their heads on the sides wondering why they’d just wasted two hours of their life...), despite the fact that even a conservative estimate would put the cost of their time spent arguing at over £1,000, at a time when what they really needed to do was to use their combined capabilities to fix their sales pipeline.
But then that’s what happens when the collective team falls apart and people begin to care more about destroying other’s points of view and/or defending their own, than keeping perspective over what it is they're actually trying to achieve.
These are of course, relatively minor examples of what can happen where relations start to break down at the top as the pressures start to mount on teams. Ones which which can be put right by some stern words from the leader and a sharp focus on the real business issues you are facing before they destroy your business. But once in-fighting starts to occur on a regular basis, when collaboration and trust break down between the team and it’s not immediately dealt with, you may as well be handing your very own nuclear switch to your competitors.
This being the first installment in this episode, I’ve no idea how Captain America and Iron Man will resolve their differences in ones to come, but if you feel that people in your own top team are more interested in putting themselves and their pride before the business and spoiling for a civil war, then use your own superpowers of support, clarity of vision, objectivity and coaching in order to help them bond rather than dissolve.
“An enemy can topple an empire from the outside and it can be rebuilt. But one destroyed from the inside will die”. Wise words indeed Mr. Vision.
Now, where did I leave that lasso…..
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Photo credit: The Avengers