For this essay we have chosen to watch Hell’s Kitchen USA, a reality show wherein talented cooks work hard to become chef at a highly valued restaurant. The show starts with two competing teams, but after several eliminations the rivals have to work as one team while still competing individually with each other. Gordon Ramsay is the host and is working to make the contestants better cooks. We have watched episode 11 of season 7. There are six participators left, who have to cook together for a crowd of people sitting in the Hell’s Kitchen dining area. The groups consists of four men and two women: Jay, Jason, Holli, Autumn, Benjamin, and Ed. Through each episode, the team tries to run the kitchen as smoothly as possible and they rely on each other during this process. Furthermore, they are working together to prove their individual capacities of leading a team and serving great meals. During the dinner service the team has to prepare meals within a limited time frame, and the dishes have to be prepared to Ramsay’s very challenging taste and wishes. Ramsay is not easily satisfied and angered, so the group has to cook under pressure. Ramsay decides everything: the rewards and punishments, who gets send away, and who will be the winner.
Observations: Comparing perspectives
While sharing our observations, we found out that our perspectives were very similar. We all figured the relationships between the members of the team seemed to be tensed and the group as a whole made a chaotic impression. What we all agreed on, was the feeling that the individuals goal weighed heavier than the collective accomplishment. Furthermore, we could tell they are all very motivated and have a high level of job involvement (Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2010, p. 63). Surely this is not their job in real life, but we could tell they really identified with and cared about the work they were to do in the show. They all have a high need for achievement: they have the drive to excel, and strive for success (Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2010, p. 145).
Additionally, we all found that the lack of communication and the verbally aggressive ways of conversing were responsible for the bad performance of the team, through Jason's aggressiveness and bad temper, or Jay's arrogance. We all considered that the people in the group have different expectations of each other, and they cannot identify with this ‘role’ others give them. The role perception (Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2010, p. 235), the view of a member of the group of how he or she is supposed to act in a given situation, does not relate to the role expectations the other members have. When Benjamin won the individual challenge his dish was to be cooked during the group challenge. The group members expected him therefore to assume a role of leader and tell them what to do, however Benjamin fails to meet their expectations, and perceived his role as just being one of the rest. Due to the different expectations and personalities the team worked in a rather chaotic manner.
However, out perceptions differed on some points. One of our team members thought Gordon Ramsay was the main motivating factor. The others figured the individual reward of becoming a chef was the most motivating. Furthermore, our appreciations of the contestants' personalities diverged. Some of us described them very concretely, ranging from extraverted to introverted, from ‘thinking to feeling types’, and from calm to nervous and unstable (Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2010, p.86), others also focused on talent and manners of working. Some of us saw Autumn as sympathetic and dependable, while others figured they could not really get her. As for Benjamin's case, some of us described him as nice, but very introverted, whereas others perceived him as being very individualistic. However, on the whole we can say our impressions were more similar than different.
The presence of prejudices, discrimination, and use of stereotypes were more difficult to grasp. There certain racial prejudice seem to be reenforced through Jason, an African American male, as he uses slang at various moments, expressing himself through phrases such as: ‘Bro’, and ‘Get your ass up’. The belgian maître d’hôtel, Jean Philippe, seems like a complete cliché, with his strong French accent and his refined manners.
The evidences which we use to form our initial impressions of the group, its members, and the dynamics were based on verbal and physical communication. Verbally we have focused on how each contestant reacts to some of Gordon Ramsay's decisions, to each other's comments, as well as the way they talk about themselves. Another point we focused on were the physical actions of the contestants, as one teammate looked at how some of the contestants behave in the kitchen and proceed through their tasks. Furthermore the team members also make remarks about the personality traits of the contestants, describing them as introvert, extrovert, aggressive, talented, assertive, confident or arrogant. These remarks are based solely on one episode of a few minutes, hence it is very interesting to see how quickly some labels are put on people. The group dynamic evidence is based on how effectively they communicate with each other. In this case according to our group dynamic is quite poor, as their communication with each other severely lacks. This is due to the fact that the contestants operate on a more individualistic level rather than a collective level. Another aspect that has been looked at is the hierarchical structure of this group, not yet very clear, as the contestants are expected to fulfill the roles of leaders, when the one and only leader in this competition is Gordon Ramsay himself, which all contestants acknowledge.
Understanding the issues
From our research the conclusion can be drawn that we are facing a work group rather than a team, since individual qualities overshadow the ones from the group as a whole (Robbins, Judge & Campbell, 2010). As Andrew Carnegie stated: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results” (Albright, 2008). An outstanding weakness on group level was to be found in contextual factors. The effectiveness of their work strongly depends on effective leadership and structure (Robbins et al., 2010). The only leader in this case was Gordon Ramsay, as the group presented a total absence of hierarchy. The members were fulfilling their tasks independently from one another and found themselves in a poorly communicated situation, as nobody spoke a word while cooking. The team could use more interaction and direction. However, being on the same hierarchical level makes it possible for members to bring out the best in them since everyone is equal. One thing the group as a whole shares, is motivation. The members have a common goal, namely becoming chef of the exclusive restaurant ‘Savoy’. Of course winning happens individually, but this can only be achieved by well functioning within the team. After all, one good dish does not satisfy a good meal.
Taking into consideration our observations one can categorize this team as cross-functional (Robbins et al., 2010). All individuals have their own skills and limits but are required to put this into one working system. Due to the absence of hierarchy the team members seem to work independently without communication and facilitation. This is emphasized by a lack of structure, not knowing the progress of the each others’ work. Because of this weakness, Gordon Ramsay’s function becomes stronger. As nobody is speaking, he becomes be the facilitator. However as he is known for his hard way of directing, the contestants' frustration increases while the productivity decreases. To conclude, the team was stuck in a vicious circle though this episode. The more Ramsay pushed them toward performance, the weaker and more chaotic the team became. Combining all factors such as time pressure, cooperation and service, based on this episode the team spirit can be considered weak.
Solutions: A strategy for group effectiveness
Following our individual observations of the group, we became aware we underlined the same problems, and that those revolved around communication, structure, leadership and role identities. Those structural problems faced by the group inhibit its effectiveness, and solutions are to be found in order to allow a more efficient group effort. This is one of the main themes in Hell's Kitchen season 8
As described above, the contestants' role perceptions and role expectations were clashing, when a member who was thought to assume the leader's role failed to do so, as his perception of his role differed from the others' expectations (Robbins, Judge, Campbell, 2010, p.235). In order to resolve this problem, there is a need for the contestants to clearly define which role identities they are assuming. In order to maintain the feeling of fairness prevailing among the team thanks to the lack of fixed hierarchy, the role of leader, or “head chef”, can be assumed by each cook through different challenges. The effectiveness of the group, enforced by the clearly defined roles attributed to each, will be enhanced.
However, this strategy raises itself another problem faced by the group: the lack of communication. Roles cannot be defined without discussions, and will not bring any change if the group members do not communicate. The role of “communication and cooperation within the work group” to enhance its efficiency is underlined by Campion, Mesdker and Higgs (1993). Those authors further stress the importance of feedback and rewards granted to individuals (Campion, Mesdker, Higgs, 1993, p.827; Robbins, Judge, Campbell, 2010, p.268), but linked to the group's performance to motivate group effort. This effort of communication, if made by the host Gordon Ramsay, could bring the team to another level of efficacy.
Personalities, defined by Robbins, Judge and Campbell as “the sum total of ways in which an individual reacts and interacts with others” (2010, p.84) can work as barriers in groups whose member have to work together. Although it is impossible to change our contestants' personalities and traits, it is important to remind them that effectiveness comes with social support, namely mutual help and positive relations between the group members (Campion, Mesdker and Higgs, 1993, p.830).
Through a two way strategy, focusing on both role identities and the importance of leadership in a fair way, and on the necessity to communicate between members, but also between contestants and “management”, the group effort will prove to be more effective. As the contestants fight to prove their value to Gordon Ramsay, they need to comprehend the prominence of social support, and that only a little effort from their part could greatly improve the group's performance, as well as proving them capable of maintaining good group relations.