Introduction and Description of the Show and the Observed Group
As a subject to base our group observation on, our group decided to choose one episode of The Apprentice UK with Sir Alan Sugar. The main idea of The Apprentice UK, which is a British adaptation of the homonymous American version, is that every episode a certain number of young business women and men from all across Great Britain are split up into two teams of a more or less equal number of people who then compete against each other in an assignment most often related to selling, organizing or other typical managerial tasks. The winning team gets to enjoy some kind of reward while one member of the losing team gets fired by Sir Alan Sugar. The one person that manages to not get fired in the final episode of the season is rewarded with an interesting, high paying management position in one of Sir Sugar’s companies.
Our group chose episode six of season four titled “Yours Truly, Angry Mob!”. The two competing group’s featured in this episode consisted of five and six people respectively. The team of six was called “Alpha” the other one “Renaissance”. As a group we decided on observing group Renaissance, as they displayed typical behavior that at first glance seemed to be detrimental to the achievement of the common goal of this specific episode.
The five members of the observed team were:
· Kevin Shaw, (bank manager, age 24) the assigned team leader
· Sara Dhada, (international car trader, age 25)
· Claire Young, (senior retail buyer, age 28)
· Jenniffer “Jenny” Celerier (sales manager, age 36)
· Alex Wotherspoon (regional sales manager, age 24)
The task for this episode was to come up with an original special occasion, to design and produce a range of five greeting cards covering the specific occasion and try to sell as many cards as possible to the three leading retailers in the greeting card industry in the UK. Whichever team manages to have more cards ordered from them wins the challenge. The set time limit is two days.
Comparison of Individual Observations
Although our initial impression of the team differed as we focused on different aspects, there was a general consensus on the following points. We found that the tasks were not effectively divided, decisions were not made participial and the communication amongst team members was generally poor. We commonly agreed that one of the team strengths were the individual diverse professional backgrounds, which were not used due to severe lack of efficient leadership. Furthermore our impressions about the group’s individuals were more or less congruent except for Jenny. We had ongoing discussions about her role in the team. It was obvious, that she was very eager to be an influential member of the team, up to the level that she seemed to secretly take leading action through manipulation and deception of her real motives. She for example blocked off Sara from presenting her ideas or concerns to Kevin to make sure that her own idea would be chosen. In the end she refused to take responsibility by not doing the pitch herself, although she had mentioned earlier that she saw herself as the most competent person for this job. We could not agree if Jenny tried to undermine Kevin at that point to get him fired or if she was just afraid to get fired herself and therefore would not do it.
We also differed on the subject of individual motivation. We could not agree if team members tried to achieve the set common goal or if they were motivated by the mere threat of being fired and behaved accordingly.
Evidence Used to Form Initial Impressions
The first impression of the group was backed by the way its members interacted. Two scenes especially stuck out. In one of them Sara, Alex and Jenny were in a cab. Jenny attacked Sara for trying to bring in her own ideas. During the whole time both did not even look at each other and displayed a noticeable amount of unwillingness to resolve obvious personal differences between them. Alex did not say one word throughout the entire cab ride thus making sure to not take any side and to avoid conflict.
The second scene showed Jenny and Claire talking about Kevin’s lack of capability to do the pitch. As soon as Kevin himself entered the room, Jenny stopped talking and tried to not look at Kevin, as if she was afraid that he could hear her criticism.
Our impression about Kevin as a team leader and his way of deciding things was proven by the three scenes, which involved the most important decisions for the task: The choice of the occasion, the design of the greeting cards and the decision of who should do the pitch. In all of those scenes, Kevin displayed similar patterns of behavior. Although he let others talk about their ideas, he did not consider them as valuable input. He had already made up his mind about the subjects beforehand and only wanted confirmation from his team members. When criticism arose, which was hardly ever the case, he made clear, that his actions were not to be criticized and that he had already decided.
Use of Stereotypes, Prejudices or Discrimination on the Show
Although serious interpersonal conflicts were observable, none of them could be considered to be caused by any form of prejudice or even discrimination. Furthermore was there no evidence of the use of stereotypes on the show what so ever. The participants’ behavior towards each other was mainly driven by a lack of will to resolve their personal quarrels, but it seemed that it was at no point caused by any unjustifiable motives based on stereotypes.
The team’s strengths and weaknesses
The main strength of team Renaissance was their diversity in terms of professional backgrounds. Claire and Jenny were both specialists in selling and negotiating with retailers, seemingly invaluable skills with respect to the given task. If the team had used those skills effectively, they could have performed much better.
In our observation we found that especially the leadership and decision making style was one of the main weaknesses of team Renaissance. Kevin as a team leader tried to do most of the work himself with the intention to promote his own skills, not considering other people more capable for the job. He made all of the important decisions alone while giving the other team members little or no say at all. It seemed that he did not think his ideas through but wanted to prove his ability to be team leader by deciding quickly and without compromise. Furthermore he overestimated his own abilities, which was especially harmful when the question arose, who would be most capable to pitch their card concept to the retail companies. By insisting on doing this task himself, Kevin took away the chance from Claire and Jenny to perform what they were trained to do, thus worsening the situation for his team.
A second major weakness was found in the communication of the team members. Right after the team had decided on the concept of an “Environment Awareness Week” and had started working on it, some of them doubted that they could win with this idea. Instead of uttering these concerns, they kept working and tried to avoid conflicts wherever possible. It seemed as if the team members feared Kevin and did not dare to question his logic. This also greatly affected their individual motivations. But not only the communication towards the team leader but also between team members themselves was less than productive. Whenever Sara tried to contribute an idea, she was attacked rather harshly by Jenny, who tried to promote her own idea.
To sum up, all these situations prove that the greatest weaknesses of team Renaissance are located in the areas of leadership, decision making and communication.
Without a doubt the biggest observable problem of the group was the way decisions were made. Kevin made excessive use of his power as a team leader, deciding at his own will what he thought was best for the group, giving group members a hard time to contribute their ideas. This created an atmosphere of distrust which ultimately harmed the group’s overall communication, which, as discussed in the previous point, was not beneficial for the group’s success right from start. That again led Kevin to not realize the need of change in his style of leadership, because nobody questioned him. Ultimately this brought up a lack of motivation to reach the common goal and to an “every person for himself”-mentality. An example to show this mentality is when Claire and Jenny were turning their back on Kevin when he asked them to take over the pitch or in the end when Sara was singled out as the scapegoat, simply because she was the least aggressive one in promoting her own contribution to the team.
Our ideas for a strategy to improve the overall performance of the team include the following:
· The most important decisions should be made more carefully. Everybody should get a say and the result has to be satisfactory for as many members as possible. The team leader has to display more rationality in decision making and he should reduce his own influence on the outcome to give others the chance to contribute. This could lead to improved overall motivation to reach the common goal, less conflict and a more appropriate division of tasks among group members. The downside is that it will take much longer to reach decisions, which could be problematic in the tight timeframe of two days.
· A very simple change in the division of tasks would have been to take one of Sara’s ideas. This would mean that she would be more important to the team and would less likely be picked on for not contributing enough. In this scenario Claire or Jenny would do the pitch to make sure that the person who is the best one for the job does it. A big challenge in this scenario is that Kevin as well as Jenny have to control their egos and let others take possible credits for their achievements. This could increase personal conflicts among team members.
· As soon as it got clear that the chosen idea did not fit the purpose, the team should have gone back to the first stage of finding a better one. Obviously time was short, so this strategy would have been very risky, but basically any other occasion would have been better than the one, that the team came up with
· When Kevin saw, that he was not able to do the pitch properly, he should have specifically asked someone else (Jenny or Claire) to do it. If they would have refused it he should have used his power as a team leader and insist on his decision. In the end this would have definitely improved the team’s pitching performance. This improvement could be seen as a last loophole to maybe turn things around at the very last minute since a good pitch could have made up for the bad idea.
Considering all the possible intervention strategies, we decided that the most successful option would be the following. If we can force people to do what we want, we would choose to change the leadership style from authoritarian to more discussing/considering. Thereby a better topic might be chosen, less conflict would occur between group members and a better person might be chosen for the pitch.