We chose the reality show „The Apprentice“, UK Series 4, Episode/Week 9: ‘Selling tissues.’
The Apprentice is an English reality TV series in which sixteen candidates can win a six-figure salary apprenticeship-based-job at one of the companies of one of England's most-successful businesspersons, Sir Alan Sugar. Because two teams were competing in this episode, we decided to pick only ‘team Renaissance’ since this was the team – we thought – was actually performing quite well – but still they lost. Group “Renaissance” contains the members Raef (Project Manager), Michael, Claire & Helene. The goal of this team is to design a tissue box, create an appealing advertisement spot and thereby bringing the tissues to the market. The four members were divided up into two smaller teams. Raef and Michael are in charge of the advertisement spot, Claire and Helen are responsible for the design of the tissue box. The team operates in the English upper class business environment, as well as its competitor, team Alpha.
Our initial observations regarding the team performance were pretty much the same. We all thought that the group did a good job on the surface, had no big disputes, and the task division was clear. Those impressions aroused because everything ran smoothly without discussions and everybody performed well doing his/her tasks. Despite that, some of us stated that instead of having no disputes at all, every single member should have been more critical and express all her/his feelings towards the work of the other members. All in all, we agreed that the initial impression of team “Renaissance” was a good one.
Some differences regarding our first impressions of the team members were for example whether Raef is arrogant or just passionate, and a perfectionist. Finally, we agreed that he is overconfident and that’s why the audience thinks of him feeling superior and arrogant. Furthermore, we all thought that the focus of the TV show was more on Raef’s and Michael’s work and not on that of the girls. That’s why we couldn’t analyse the girls’ characters sufficiently.
We all stated that the goal of the team was to win the competition by creating the best advertisement for the tissues and therefore convincing Sir Alan. However, our observations concerning the individual motivations were pretty different, either the candidates would go for winning the job, or for some individual motivators within the tissue competition (such as artistic ideals). First of all we came to the conclusion that also other factors like appreciation, compliments and a connection between team members create ‘a drive.’ Although those factors are not so transparent at the beginning, they represent an important part of the question regarding personal motivation. Secondly, Raef has extra motivation because he is certainly going to be fired if he messes up and thirdly Michael is somehow motivated because he has done some directing before. We couldn’t identify a personal motivator for Claire & Helene, because they were not often depicted during their work. As already said, this had to do with the camera point of view.
We ended up with the main result that they are a team, because they were assigned to be one. Additionally they share a common goal and ideas, whilst working together to make the task a success. On top of that, they have their management-related background and ‘drive’ to become the apprentice in common. Because they have divided their team into two (commercial – box design), they clearly demonstrate sub-goals within the two separate teams (e.g. designing the tissue box, making an appealing commercial, etc.). Their differences are mainly related to experience and they way they handle and cope with Sir Alan’s critique.
When we had a look at the group members’ commonalities and differences, two of us pointed out that the commonalities and differences of the team members mainly influence the way the team members work together, one of us considered the attitude of the group members towards each other and another person suggested the mood of the team in general.
Concerning the group members’ interactions with each other, we all provided different examples which led to the same conclusions. The team members treated each other respectfully, their communication was not only based on physical presence but also through their mobile phones.
Nonverbal communication is also very important when you work as a team which means that one single smile or one rewarding glance may cause a lot more than thousand words. Significant for nonverbal communication in this series might be the laughter between Micheal and Raef which implied an existing harmony between them.
Despite of the fact that a good interpersonal relationships between team members is a very important, we all thought that this team lacked the ability of sharing criticism. They always agreed on their team member’s work, so in our opinion their contact was not profound enough.
In forming our initial impressions of the team we used their communication skills, actions and emotions. The members are time pressed and it was obvious that they are spending more attention on details rather than focusing on the main subject - the advertisement. Usually dividing the work helps the team to be more efficient, however in this case it led to a lack of communication between the two groups, resulting in the fact that both teams act on a standalone basis. Most of the team members look a bit nervous which can be explained by the time pressure. Furthermore, the leader’s attitude towards the whole group is more individualistic rather than collectivistic, which shouldn’t be the case for projects like this one (for example when individual motivation is concerned).
Raef - the team leader - is too passionate and he focuses mostly on the TV-tissue commercial than on leadership as a whole. He discusses the commercial only with Michael and only showed the commercial to Claire and Helene once. Both girls are really hard- working and motivated to do their task perfectly and concentrated on that to be done on time and be inventive through both brand name and their final design of the tissue box. Noticeably, at the beginning of the episode, Raef decided to give the design of the box to Claire and Helene and the harder and ‘more important’ part of the assignment - the commercial - to him and Michael. Basically Michael stereotyped the women by giving them a ‘less important’ job, we could say. When the teams would be mixed, the guys would have been more controlled on and the ‘artistic value’ of the commercial would have been much less, resulting in a better commercial. On top of that, they underestimated the girls, which can be considered as discrimination. However they did a much better job than the guys - working fast, finishing on time whilst – at the same time - being inventive in their task.
While watching the show, it immediately came to our minds that team ´Renaissance´ had some clear advantages compared to the other team. For example, the initial ideas of ´Renaissance´ were much better than those of the other team. However, they made a ‘fatal’ mistake when defining the brand name. This was mainly because their brainstorming session brought up too many ideas, leading to an ‘overflow’ of concepts that had to be integrated into the commercial. Regardless of this ‘unacceptable mistake’, the task division was much more efficient compared to the other team (while team ‘Alpha’ did all the work together, team ‘Renaissance’ decided to split up the work). Another strength of this team could immediately be seen when looking at the personal relationships between the members. Whereas Alpha was continuously fighting over what the task execution should be like, Renaissance did its job being productive and – at the same time – enjoying the task. This also resulted in a much better communication within the team. As already said, the task division was much clearer in team Renaissance. However, at the same time, this also resulted in some weaknesses in the team. Since the task division was so clear from the start of the project, project leader Raef let Helene and Claire almost entirely free in their tasks, which implied no one in the team actually had a clear overview of what the others were doing. On top of that, the passion for the task lead Raef and Michael, being responsible for the commercial that had to be made, into heavy trouble. Since they focused on the integration of almost all their ideas, they lost the overview and the basic idea of a commercial that it – in the end - has to have a clear message. Also, because of this confidence and passion that was put into the task, the other team members were hesitant to comment on their other team members’ work – and hereby they were not being honest. We could even say that the great trust they had in each other took away another element that’s very important in cooperation: honesty towards each other. One last weakness we’d like to mention here is the lack of research that was being done, since the childless weather woman was actually playing a mom in the commercial. As she put it herself: ‘I don’t know why they selected me either.’
The biggest identifiable weakness that was observed in team Renaissance’s approach was their general over-the-top level of enthusiasm, which resulted in the members coming up with and executing ideas which were somewhat irrelevant to the final goal. An important factor in this was the teams eagerness to start working on the project which cut short the time they spent on brainstorming and thus disposing of ideas which did not fit the project. This effect was emphasized by the fact that the level of enthusiasm also impaired the teams ability to criticize each other where necessary. An important example of this was evident in the beginning of the episode where the team was assigned to come up with a brand-name for the product. The team spent too little time on this as they all agreed too quickly, thus resulting in a name Sir Alan considered ‘unacceptable’. In addition, the teams enthusiasm led to them following their own far too artistic ideals rather than what would have fitted the product. The result was a commercial which ‘would have done very well in Cannes’ but was not suitable at all for tissues. As a team we’ve decided that the primary focus for improvement should be on the initial part of the process, namely, the brainstorming part. This was where we saw most room for improvement. Some ideas included:
· The team-members doing more research towards the product and target group;
· The team taking more brainstorming time in general;
· The members should try to put aside their personal preferences, so as to come up with more professional ideas, especially concerning Michael & Raef’s commercial;
· Other team-members should actively try to keep each other from falling for their personal preferences through being more sceptical and criticizing;
· One of the team members (the team leader Raef) has to make sure he has an overview of what everyone is doing;
We believe that, in order to conquer the problem of the team losing track of the goal through their enthusiasm, the team should have spent more time getting to know what would have fitted the product, rather than what fitted them. In other words, more initial research would have saved them a lot of trouble. This would have made it easier for the team to create a general outline of what their commercial should have been like and not divert too much from it into their own ideals. On top of that, we advise the team leader to keep an overview of the situation and to act like a person who’s task is to be most responsible and to guide the members with their task.