In every organization I have seen him. I have worked with him and yes, I have been him as well. I love to see him running through the organization, appearing in every possible meeting and hanging out with management. I am talking about the Superhero of the team: the Batman who is willing to do pizza-sessions, pull all-nighters, work on the weekends and will do all the work that is needed to be done. We like heroes, we celebrate them and reward them as well. They are a role model in the organization. Do you recognize this person and do you have a hero in your team? I am sorry to say, but you are suffering from the Superhero Syndrome.

The Superhero Syndrome

The Superhero Syndrome is when one member of the team assumes that he or she is responsible for doing everything. They take on extra work and responsibilities, solving any kind of problem and take failures and mistakes to heart. A real perfectionist. A superhero is the one who fixes the problem and therefore someone who is rewarded by management when doing so. Most heroes have good intentions and do their work with the out most passion. But, a lot or organizations are completely dependent on the heroes. And, more disturbing if you ask me, is that a lot of organizations think the superhero is needed because the other team members are not capable of fixing complex problems.

A lost hero

It is easy to depend on the hero. Take advantage of someone who is willing and doing all the work. Easy to just sit back and let the hero save the day. Other members of the team are much less likely to react and respond appropriately in times of crisis. Why? Because the hero has the knowledge that hasn’t been shared with the team.

Because a hero wants to solve problems and feels responsible for all mistakes, they can put an unmanageable amount of pressure upon themselves to perform. For a short-term it can be alright, but it is the long term attitude that makes this role a danger. Stefan Thorpe points it out: ‘they will not only be pushing themselves to complete their own work as usual, but they will also be trying to take on too much in the way of additional roles and responsibilities.’ (1) This behaviour can result into a burn-out and will affect their performance.

Should you get rid of your superhero?

Good question! For me the answer is yes if you believe the rest of the team is not performing the way you want. Keeping the hero in place and let them fix every problem on their own, will indeed make sure the team is not capable of fixing the problem. Why should they if there is always a hero who saves the day who uses it super powers on their own instead of teaching them. But, let me be clear on one point: a superhero is not someone you want to get rid of, it is something you should want to get rid of. It is the behaviour of a superhero that can be killing for your organization, not (per se) the person self.

Do you remember the 1992 American men’s basketball Olympic ‘Dream Team’? The greatest players in the history of sports put together: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and so on. A guarantee for success… right?

On June 24 1992, the team started to prepare for the Olympics and played their first game to a squad of the best NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college players. The star players entered the playground, intimidating the students with their warming up. Everything was in place to make sure everyone saw the Dream Team shining like their individual heroes. And of course… they lost the game by 62 – 54, after underestimating the opposition. (2) “We didn’t know how to play with each other,” Scottie Pippen.(3)

The loss woke the players up: winning was far more than being a team of all stars, it required to be an all-star team. They adjusted, became a team and the rest is well-known history. The Dream Team defeated its opponents by an average of 44 points and took home the gold. It has been described by American journalists as the greatest sports team ever assembled. (2)

How to kill Batman

The example of the Dream Team is one that a lot of organizations can identify with. They are all looking for the most experienced and talented individual, most of the time the superheroes of the organization, who can help out the team of average or even underperformers. But having the best players on the playground does not mean you will actually win the tournament. It depends on if you want to win the game or go for the championships. Just as Michael Jordan says: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” (3)

Here are five tips to get rid of the Batman in your organization or team:

If you are a superhero, start saying ‘no’! When a team can rely on you, the hero, they don’t need to grow and learn collectively. There is no need to get better and the team can just coast along. Knowing how to solve a problem, doesn’t mean you are responsible to fix it. As a team you are responsible and therefore all of you need to cooperate. You shortchange yourself by maintaining an unhealthy work-life balance;

  1. If you are a manager facing superhero behaviour in your team address the problem as soon as possible. Make sure the hero sees it, sees the consequences on the long term and protect them to become overloaded;
  2. Use data to show what is going on, to ease up the conversation. Make sure you let Batman see what is going on and what kind of impact his actions have. Feelings, emotions and assumptions make the whole conversation a lot more difficult and could create a hostile environment;
  3. Stop rewarding people who work long hours, don’t punish them as well but start to find out what is broken and why people think they need to do overtime. (4);
  4. If you have a superhero in your team it is important you speak up. Make sure you start the conversation with the whole team and with the goal to make the team better. Keep away from one-on-one conversations and the accusing modus. It is difficult, I understand but as described before, no one wins with a Batman. Not the team, not the organization and not Batman self.

Are you facing superheroes in your team and do you want to focus on becoming a team instead of a group of individuals? With the State of Teams you will get a data driven insight in the High Performance of your team to start becoming the Dream Team yourself. Contact us for more information.


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