‘Captain America: Civil War’ Shows You How to Kill Your Team’s Morale

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m usually behind when it comes to movies—except when it involves the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War has raked in nearly one billion dollars since its release on May 6.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go. It definitely makes up for Age of Ultron’s lackluster storytelling. Hats off to the Brothers Russo, who had also helmed the second movie in the Captain America trilogy, Winter Soldier. I can’t wait to see what they do with The Avengers: Infinity War. (Although, I admit to rolling my eyes at the fact that it’s following in the steps of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games by splitting the last movie into two.)

Besides just being awesome, I love the fact that Civil War highlights the detriment that division has on a team. They’re a crew of fictional superheroes, but the same can apply to any group—including a business segment.

Here are a few ways Civil War shows you how to kill your own team’s morale.

NOTE: Spoilers!

Letting Ego Take the Pilot’s Seat

It was clear from the first Avengers that tension between these strong-willed (and just plain strong) characters would be an ever-present theme throughout these movies. Civil War, as the title and trailers suggest, elevates that tension to a whole new level.

Like the Avengers, you want your business to be awesome. That means on-boarding amazingly talented individuals. Some team members may have the best of intentions, but if they refuse to work together, things will eventually fall apart.

Great leaders need to read the people on their teams so that they can best address unhealthy tension before it becomes a bigger problem.

Handling Mistakes Out of Fear

In the first few minutes of Civil War, Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen), makes a massive mistake. No one takes it harder than she.

Captain America/Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) acknowledges her good intentions (as well as his fault for hesitating to take out Crossbones). He also sympathizes, since their line of work is dangerous and always presents the possibility of collateral damage. Basically, he tells her to not beat herself up anymore.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn’t see it the same way. While he also understands Wanda’s intentions, he views her as a danger to herself and others. So, in a way, he puts her under house arrest.

One can argue that Cap is being too lenient and Stark is being too harsh. The point is that she made a mistake and she can either be punished for it or grow stronger from it. If she were not remorseful, Stark’s methods would make more sense. Since she was, however, I’d have to side with Cap on that one.

Mistakes are bound to happen. With some, the damage is worse than others. Handling them out of fear rather than respect is a surefire way to kill your team’s morale and post a giant “Do Not Enter” sign for any future creative energy.

Telling Lies and Twisting Truths

Speaking of mistakes, no one has screwed up more than Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan). He makes Wanda’s slip-up look like child’s play.

Joe and Anthony Russo (and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) did an amazing job developing Bucky into perhaps the most tragic of all the characters in Civil War. And it takes only a few lies and twisted truths surrounding his past activities to divide a Marvel universe.

A recent Forbes column by David K. Williams highlights the costs that “mean” people can wreak on an organization. “Mean people, or individuals who engage in ‘workplace violence,’ are perpetrators of physical, mental, or emotional abuse, bullying, or threatening behavior,” he wrote.

I knew a company that had a mean individual. Some of his colleagues likened him to Sheldon Cooper, the sociopathic character from The Big Bang Theory and portrayed by Jim Parsons. And just like Sheldon, he talked down to scientists who held only Master’s degrees as opposed to Ph.Ds. (Heaven forbid you should only have a Bachelor’s.)

Mean people like Sheldon tell lies and twist truths, like about Bucky’s past, to manipulate others into turning against each other. It’s stupid, it’s costly, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Micromanaging the Fire Out Of People

Micromanagement is rooted in fear and distrust. While Elon Musk famously micromanages his companies to astronomical success (no pun intended—okay, maybe a little), in most work environments, it’s a fast way to kill creativity and increase stress.

On movies like Civil War, the geek in me seeks out behind-the-scenes peeks and cast and crew interviews online. After watching a few with some of the actors, including Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), it seems that the Russos were not micromanagers when it came to their performances.

I don’t know if they were more like that in other aspects of moviemaking. But at least from the people whose faces we see on the screen, I didn’t get the sense that their directors were also dictators.

If you’ve hired amazing talent, then chances are you don’t really need to look over their shoulders with a yardstick in one hand and a cattle prod in the other. The actors in Civil War don’t seem the type to trade mediocre performances for a paycheck. They seem passionate about, and highly trained in, their craft. The Russos just gave them the environment that would naturally draw out those performances.

As a leader, you really just need to give your team the tools, the space, and the trust to take an assignment and let them unleash their own creative energy. Healthy teams will keep each other in the know and make adjustments as needed.

The freedom to do an awesome job transcends industries. Most people will work hard and work well if they are allowed to do so. In fostering division, however, no one wins.

And with that, I will leave you with the last doughnut.