*Warning: This article contains spoilers of the Marvel/Netflix television show, ‘The Defenders’*
August marked the release of the much anticipated live-action debut of Marvel’s The Defenders. Although each of the main characters that make up the team had their individual debuts on Netflix via their solo television shows, this is the first time that all four characters meet and team up to take on the evil organization called the Hand. The Defenders, of course, consist of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
However, many may not know that this is an all-new cast of characters that make up the superhero team. The original Defenders, who made their first appearance in Marvel Comics in 1971, consisted of Doctor Strange, Namor, and the Hulk. They were a loosely organized team brought together out of necessity by Doctor Strange. The original Defenders had a reputation of being a non-team; they didn’t like each other, had no headquarters (other than Dr. Strange’s Sanctum) and were not organized like the Avengers.
The television show has a fun call back to this reputation which plays out in the restaurant scene as Iron Fist suggests the four superheroes team up to defeat the Hand and the other three heroes object.
All in all the Defenders is a lot of fun to watch.
It is especially interesting watching the team come together through the lens of organizational psychology. The superhero team faces many of the challenges that teams in real-world workplaces face every day. As the team forms, they struggle with issues of trust, leadership, and conflict resolution. The entire series plays out like a lesson in the do’s and don’ts of effective team building. Let’s explore a couple of these issues and how they played out in the show.
Trust Issues: Do’s
- Create Synergy: We are all interdependent. Iron Fist understood this when all four characters escaped the Hand’s headquarters together. He went in as an individual to try to take on the entire organization but quickly learned that he needed help. It took each of the heroes’ individual powers and skill sets coming together to be able to escape in one piece.
- Communicate: Communication is key to conflict resolution within teams. Without communication, the team becomes divisive and insular. We see this play out through much of the show as the team forms. For example, Matt Murdock at first refusing to share his identity with the rest of the team, but eventually doing so after a little coaxing from individual team members. As the team continues to develop, they begin to communicate more effectively and the conflicts within the team begin to decrease.
- Celebrate Diversity: A powerful point in the series is when Luke Cage and Iron Fist have their first conversation in Collen Wing’s dojo. Both characters come from different backgrounds and argue over the handling of one of the Hand’s henchmen who happens to be a teen from Luke’s neighborhood and a source of conflict between the two heroes. In the scene, Luke Cage checks Danny Rand’s (Iron Fist) privileged point of view with his own perspective. Had it not being for an interaction with someone on his team from a distinctively different background, Danny’s mind would not have been opened to a new way of looking at a particular issue.
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Trust Issues Don’ts
- Be Secretive: We see Matt’s secrets keep coming back to haunt him throughout the show. His teammates have a difficult time trusting him as he fails to divulge his feelings for Elektra, and the nature of their relationship. Being secretive, or holding out on important information that pertains to the team’s project will lead to distrust among the team, which will likely lead to failure.
- Gang Up on Individual Team Members: Being part of a team is being able to listen to all perspectives and dissenting voices within the team. Ganging up on one individual with a dissenting voice will lead to resentment, in-fighting, and lack of cooperation. Iron Fist falls victim to this as his team proceeds to fight him (literally) and tie him up to keep him from continuing his quest to defeat the Hand. Again, communication is key to conflict resolution.
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- Flat Organizational Style: In flat, or linear, organizations; employees have much more direct input into the decision making process. As the Defenders come together, Stick takes on the leadership role barking out orders and insisting that the heroes unite for the common good. As the show progresses (and Stick is killed) we see the team become more like a flat organization where all the individuals have equal input in the decision-making process. This provides buy-in and ownership into the final plan to defeat the Hand from the entire team.
- Autocratic Style: Leaders, such as Stick, who take on an autocratic style of leadership almost always provide a toxic environment for their teams. This is a top-down style of leadership where one individual makes all the decisions. These leaders miss out on valuable input or feedback from members of the team because they believe they know best and will not admit when they are wrong. The results of this style of leadership often don’t end well for both the team and/or the leader.
- Try to Kill a Member of Your Team While He/She is tied to a Chair: This goes without saying, but don’t do it. Even if the Hand is trying to get to that team member in order to use them to open up a secret door because he/she is the Immortal Iron Fist, it just isn’t worth it.