“The Apprentice (UK)” is a British TV-series, which was first broadcasted in 2005 and endures until now. The participating candidates – normally businessmen and businesswomen – are split up in two competing rivaling teams by gender differentiation and must perform a task. An appointed project manager is responsible for leading the team. Team performances are commonly measured by the biggest profit and the losing team must announce three members from which one is going to be fired (i.e. being excluded from further participation in the competition). In the final, the two remaining competitors are fighting for a £100.000 job as an apprentice in the company of the juror Sir Alan Sugar.
For this OB Field Exercise we are focusing on the 3rd episode of series one of the UK-version of “The Apprentice”. Moreover, we are especially observing the losing group consisting of Adele (project manager), Tim, Sebastian, Ben, Miriam and Miranda – it is the first time the teams where shuffled and the gender distinction is abandoned. The task is to buy ten items of a given list for a price that shall be lower than the normal retailer price. For each missing item, the team is fined by £80. The teams must be back in the boardroom – the room where Sir Alan Sugar and the other jurors are making their decisions - at 05:30 p.m. and the team which has spent the lowest amount of money wins this competition.
We all had directly the same negative impression of team, meaning that they are inhomogeneous and disorganized, futilely trying to win the competition. Furthermore, we had more or less equal impression of the team members (e.g. Adele: self-centered, Tim: clever, smart) and about the goal of the team. The observations of the communication style and how it influenced the performance of the group did not differ at all. We all observed the vertical communication, which caused many quarrels and decreased in the outcome the group performance. However, our approaches to outline the team’s strengths and weaknesses were slightly different. One team member outlined the vertical distribution of power as a strength, another team member considered it as a weakness
Our impressions of the team were made by several observations. First we founded our impressions of the members on a “first-glance-perception”, meaning that we directly associated character traits to the persons when we saw them for the first time. Our perception of the group and its dynamics was chiefly based on the fact that the group members were shuffled for the first time. Knowing the fact that both groups have so far shown a great group homogeneity, we were able to predict that quarrels and conflicts might arise.
When the male group and the female group were demanded to split up, the ingroup bias became very obvious. The men said that they cannot work with the women as they have such great group coherence. Moreover, Tim linked losing or failing directly to the female group as the men have won the previous two competitions. As well it became lucid that Adele has prejudices concerning the men and women in her group. Because she believed that the men were successful she gave them the two most important tasks in the group: her deputy and a senior negotiator who shall lead the negotiations, without considering the strengths of the women.
As “First Forte” was the losing team it is not too surprising that we discovered more weaknesses than strengths. One of the team’s main strengths in the beginning was the group structure. Adele managed to give certain tasks to the team members (e.g. Tim was appointed as the deputy manager, Miranda was appointed as the personal assistant of Adele). Hence, everyone should have known what to do, simultaneously guaranteeing an effective and efficient work environment. Another strength was the division of the “First Forte” team into two subgroups, also known as structural intervention. Henceforth, one team was led by Adele and one by the deputy, Tim.
Their initial strength for organization turned out to be inconstant over the day. When they were looking for the items, the team revealed a clear lack for organization. The group did not have a genuine plan or schema, but they were rather intuitively looking for items, often losing time. Certainly, the constant tension between the group members, which were initially evoked by the vertical distribution of power, oftentimes resulted in quarrels, hence, weakened the group coherence and wasted a lot of time. Furthermore, the group did not manage to combine the individual’s strengths into group strengths. There was no “one for another” feeling but rather a coexistence of individuals.
We consider the tension between team members, resulting from vertical distribution of power as the team’s biggest weakness. This led not merely to decreasing group coherence, but it caused confusion and a disordered way to approach the goals. Thus, the team ran out of time and could not use the time to negotiate in a proper way. Various situations give evidence to this observation. When Adele appointed Miranda as her PA, she did not pay respect to Miranda’s opinion. Albeit, she did not want to do this task, Adele carried out her point. Another situation in which the vertical distribution of power became obvious was the conflict between Adele and Sebastian whilst they were waiting for Miranda who was waiting on the opposite side of the street. Sebastian wanted to look in the nearest shops for items they had to buy until Miranda returned. However, Adele demanded him to stay with her until she would give him the permission to leave. In this situation the group has lost a lot of time which they could have used for negotiations and looking for cheap items. Ultimately, the huge quarrel between Miranda and Adele in the car is an evidence for the tension between the team members. Both had a different opinion and argued who was right. Instead of giving way, both resisted on their opinion and argued over a long period of time, even disturbing Sebastian who was negotiating via cell phone.
One way to improve the group performance is to change the attitude and behavior of certain group members. Especially, Miranda, the PA contributed with her constant contradictions to a bad work environment. Without these contradictions the conflict would have been avoided, hence, the performance would have been better. Moreover, we strongly do not recommend appointing a PA for such a task. Instead of keeping notes for Adele all the time, Miranda could have contributed to a higher performance by taking part in negotiations or by researching for getting the items at the cheapest price. Adele could have increased the performance as well. For this task a PA is to our point of view superfluous. Instead of appointing team members for non-necessary tasks contrary to their will Adele, as the project leader should have tried to reveal the entire potential of the members
The best strategy to improve the team’s performance is probably to change the vertical distribution of power to a more horizontal one (i.e. empowerment of the team members). Adele should have led the team in a way the other team’s leader did. That means she should have stepped in the background and let the team develop a certain dynamic. She should have acted like a backbone supporting the team in its decision (e.g. in the other group the team was able to decide). Ultimately, the team should have focused on the main tasks (negotiations and research) instead of spending the time with the superfluous tasks pointed out earlier (e.g. appointing PA).