For our Group Observation Exercise we have chosen the American reality-television cooking competition Hell’s Kitchen (season 3, episode 3). The show, hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, is about two teams – a red (female) one and a blue (male) one – having to compete in cooking challenges and try to outperform each other.

Those challenges tend to be extremely stressful, meaning that the members have to prepare large amounts of different dishes within a very short time. In addition to that, the inability to work together or every behavior that slows down the performance of the team is harshly criticized by Chef Ramsay, making it difficult to remain calm and composed. The winning team of each challenge gets a prize (such as an invitation for dinner on a US military aircraft carrier), while the losers are punished (in our episode they have to peel tons of onions.). In the end of each episode the worst-performing member of the losing group is announced and has to quit the show. The last person remaining is the final winner of the season and is rewarded with a one-year contract as head chef of a famous restaurant in Las Vegas (Terra Verde).

We have focused on the blue (male) team of our episode, consisting of five members: Aaron (who will leave the team during the episode), Brad, Josh, Rock (who will be winner of the third season) and Vinnie. This team of cooks is especially interesting due to some incongruities that can be found in virtually every form of human gathering (including business groups), such as outsiders, a clash between two members or the struggle for the position of the leader.


2) + 3)Individual impressions

The first impression of the team is one thing we all agreed about: It does not work as it should. The reason for this malfunction can be blamed to various causes. Firstly, we all noticed the ongoing quarrel between Rock and Josh, who were continuously struggling to obtain the leadership position, which left the team without a real leader.

Opinions differed on the roles that other team members play. Aaron for example can be seen as not motivated since he wanted to be sent home; on the other hand it could also be the physical troubles he had that made him work less intensively. Rock on the other hand worked really hard and acted as a leader. Though some of our team members saw Rock’s behavior as ‘dirty’ and strategic because he tried to vote Josh out in the last episode, others recognized his actions as being straightforward and outspoken.

One team member we all agreed about is Josh who obviously wanted the leadership position so much that he was even willing to put the whole team challenge at risk by choosing Brad as a leader instead of the more capable Rock. Josh didn’t listen to Brad’s commands and lacked essential communication skills. There was no discussion neither about Brad, nor Vinnie who are both hard working, but not very talented chefs.

A difference of opinion can be found on the motivation: the majority of our team felt that winning the competition was the only motivation the team members had on working together and the cooking competition turned from a team challenge to an individual competition. This changed when we saw how Rock motivated the entire team to help Aaron get dressed and created the first spark of team spirit. Later on this team spirit is seen arising in intense and stressful situations.


4) Prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes

Although the blue team has many incongruities and weaknesses, stereotypes or other forms of discrimination are none of them (neither between the members of the groups, nor the groups themselves). Even though there is a dispute between Rock and Josh for example, they still respect and tolerate each other.

Chef Ramsay is infamous for bombarding the teams with offensive language, such as F-Bombs and sometimes even misogynic statements (“Are you a dumb blonde?”). However, his intention is to entertain the viewers, not to hurt anybody personally.

5) Strengths and weaknesses

In this episode, there are many weaknesses, but luckily also some strengths to be noticed on the blue team. Firstly, there is way too much of a competition going on about who will be the leader of the team. Particularly going between Rock and Josh, this in-team competition slows the whole team down and no one really does anything about it. In the kitchen, this sometimes leads people not to know what their tasks are, because there is no one to really assign them.

Another weakness is the lack of communication between the team members. For example, in the clash between Josh and Rock, Josh doesn’t honestly say what he thinks, which keeps the clash from being solved. But apart from that, the communication in the kitchen also shows flaws. Several times mistakes are being made because there is not enough communication.

Number three on the list of weaknesses of the blue team consists of all these personal failures being made. Someone making one small mistake, which catches Chef Ramsay’s attention, gets yelled at and most of the time has to re-make the dish. This way, the team has to wait or help the person who made the mistake, in order to let no one fall behind. So the performance of the whole team is dependent on the performance of its weakest links.

The reason for this not leading to real friction is that there is, despite the competition going on, a team-feeling. This is best seen at the beginning of the episode, when everyone is woken up for breakfast service. Aaron has cramps in his legs, so he gets help from his teammates with getting up and dressed. Without this team-feeling, the team would probably fall apart because of the competition going on within the team.

Another strength would be the team’s ability to co-operate well in stressful situations. In the real heat of Hell’s Kitchen, they really show what they can do. In this heat, the blue team performs significantly better than the expectations based on the performance in less stressful situations. On the other hand, this characteristic could also be called a weakness: Only in stressful situations does the team perform as a real team.


6) a-c) Strategies and solutions

In our opinion the biggest weakness of the blue team in Hell’s Kitchen Season 3 Episode 3, was the lack of structure within the group.

At no time within the Episode was it clear who is leading. The members of the blue team had not yet really found their position within the team and arguments and discussions followed each assignment. Furthermore because of this lack of structure, personal ambition to win the leadership over the group was put above the greater good of the group (Josh), harming each individual in the long run even more. Adding to this problem was the fact that the members of the team just did not communicate enough. The teammates did not know who was completing which task, creating an even more disorganized working environment.

To top it off, this group had great discrepancies between the individual skill levels of each member. This resulted in different group members having to “cover” for the failures of others, not only creating more stress, but also anger to further damage an effective group dynamic.

As a group we thought the best way to help this team of people, would be to force them to communicate more with each other.

Communication not only while completing the challenge set to them during the show, but also reflecting the workday together and trying to prevent any foreseeable problems lying ahead. In doing this, we hope to solve two problems at once: Not only would the team talk to each other more during a challenge, thus preventing disorganization, more importantly, they could find their own special role and place within the team itself, which will hopefully create a structure within the team.

Further solutions to fight their weaknesses include:

- Announcing a clear leader, thus preventing the power struggle within the group.

- Making sure that the team’s united goal stands above the individual goal.