The reality show we focused on was ‘The Apprentice’ (UK). We watched the first episode of the second season. It consists of fourteen men and women, who gave up their jobs to try and be hired as Alan Sugar’s apprentice. Divided in two groups of seven people according to their sex, the teams were given 500 pounds, with which they had to buy and then sell vegetables. They had to buy the vegetables at the same wholesaler and then try to sell them at a local market and on the streets. The group who had the most money at the end of the day (the time set by Sir Alan Sugar was 7.30 PM), would have been declared winner. One member of the losing team would have been fired by Sir Sugar. We focused on the team composed by men, who concluded the day with slightly more than 700 pounds, while the women finished with more than 1100 pounds.
For all of us, the first impression of the observed group was really similar. The group was not really creative and the business-background members were not well amalgamated, especially because of their individual egos. One of us pointed out that all the members had strong personalities and that those personalities resulted in the fact that all the members tried to stand out.
As for what concerns the group members, the first one standing out was Syed. From the beginning he was trying to lead, and he found hard to accept that he had to work in a team to complete his own goal. One of us found him a good talker, someone else thought he was unethical. Ben was chosen as the leader of the group during this assignment. We thought him as a respectable and natural leader. Moreover he was really positive and he could handle the responsibility very well. Paul was the youngest one, only 25 years old, and a bit shy in the beginning according to one of us. The others did not think he was shy, but that he was trying to find his place in the group. He was instead a man with a widely international background, as he was able to travel and work in many places around the world. He seemed to be the only creative one as at the end of the day he did all he could to sell apples door-to-door at a relatively high price, using a friendly and extraverted approach. Moreover, there was a black man whose name wasn’t mentioned during the program. After some research his name seemed to be Ansell. He was a motivator, also called a mental coach by one of our group members. About Tuan, we all agreed that he was not greatly communicative, nor creative. The other two members, Samuel and Mani, didn’t make an outstanding impression.
All the team members had the goal of winning the competition against the group made by women and not run the risk of being fired (short-term goal), as part of the long-term goal of impressing the boss Alan Sugar to become his apprentice. It was clear to all of us that the individuals were highly motivated to reach their goal, so motivated that they left their jobs to take part in the program. Therefore, their commonalities in being businessmen, with a common goal and a high need for achievement – as McClelland would put it – helped in raising the money. However, another commonality, their ego, didn’t help the group cooperation, even under Ben’s careful lead, and instead was a problem that complicated the intra-group communication. Moreover, their different personalities and the difficulty of some people, especially Syed, to adapt to the group slowed down the group growth, instead of committing to one of Henri Fayol’s principles, which states the importance of placing the group first, and then the individual goal. Only Ben seemed to be the one who performed as such. Also, the differences in their common business-related background helped the division of job tasks, a salient component of a well-working team. Lastly, it was possible to identify a potential difference in their cultural background, as we could notice different somatic characteristics (Asian-like, white Caucasian and black).
As already said, Ben seemed like a natural leader. Almost everyone seemed to follow him, except for Mani and Syed. Especially in the beginning, it was him (Syed) ‘against’ the rest of the group. The verbal communication was often oriented to deal with divergences in the thinking of some group members. One of us even said there was no communication at all, but was corrected buy the other group members that without communication they couldn’t have made money. However, in the end, Ben gathers the group and motivates its members, impressed by the overwhelming end-result of the women, stressing the importance of cooperation. The group had good individual qualities and followed a good ethic, as when Ben warned Syed not to promise what he’s not sure of providing. With Ben as a leader, the group seemed organized, despite the already stressed ego-problem, which may be very well depicted as their biggest weakness.
Together with the actions and words of the members, we all based our first impressions on the comparison between the members of the men team and the members of the women team. While the women seemed to work better as a group, the men acted more as individuals with a common goal, a slight distinction that turned into a significant amount of profit-difference in the end. The women were able to better understand their skills and how to apply them, just like it is done in business strategy when the SWOT matrix is applied, while the men, despite a good organization, only acted on the base of their business knowledge and relied much less on an in-depth understanding of what their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats were. In fact, the women relied on their greater extraversion (one of the ‘Big Five’) to influence the decisions of the sellers they were dealing with, being able to have tons of vegetables paying only 41 pounds, gathering much of them by collecting old or ‘corrupted’ vegetables. The men, instead, were not enough of a solid group to put in act such strategy, as they had to deal with the abovementioned issue of the ‘too-big ego’.
It was interesting to notice the presence of some stereotypes in the episode. Beside the less stressed stereotype of well-dressed ‘business-men-and-women’, another one strongly stood out: the possibility for women to use their ‘sex appeal’ in order to achieve their goal. Emphasized in the end by Sir Sugar, also the women themselves were convinced of the competitive advantage that ‘putting in action’ such stereotype and in fact they were able to get great deals at the market partly because of this. Quite ironically, when Sir Sugar discussed this point, they felt accused of not being able to conduce an ethical behavior and one even cried. For what concerns the group that we observed, no significant stereotype was used, except the way of dressing, and there was no form of discrimination of any kind. It is possible, however, to notice a prejudice against Paul, as he was considered part of the group ‘young businessman’, which created some sort of intergroup bias and led other members to think he had not enough experience because of his age. However, Paul proved them wrong as he showed good marketing skills in the end.
Observing and criticizing the entire team during their tasks and intern communication, we noticed first of all that the team was well organized in the beginning. Under Ben’s leadership, they discussed the best possible strategy, including the tasks for each group member. Despite the outstanding individualism of Syed, they all agreed with the proposed approach after all, which provides evidence for a strong leadership position for Ben and a group that was able to perform its task well, ending with a considerable amount of money, despite the much-emphasized weakness of the big egos and incongruence in some personalities. Another strength, or at least a good quality, was the ethical behavior, exemplified in the already described lesson that Ben gave to Syed. This is also evidence for the impossibility of Syed of being constructively a member of the group.
The group’s biggest weakness, as said, was the failure of entirely committing to the team’s goal by some members. On a team-level analysis, the problem derived by the inability of some to understand the importance of such task and thus expressing dissents to, for example, the tasks that were given or the elected leadership. This lack of adaptation led to a lessening of potential efficiency and productivity from which the team lost possibilities for greater earnings. It is also possible to affirm, despite the concept not being explicitly stated in the episode, that the team members responded to such deviant behavior by, consciously or not, having a lower satisfaction of the group environment. To solve such issue, the group, leaded by Ben, should have dealt with formal ‘rules’ to be followed in any action: rules like, respect for ‘authority’ (Ben), equity and possibility for each and every member to speak his mind and discuss as a group one’s own idea, the division of ‘labor’ between members into specific tasks, and the very stressed commitment to the general interests. The discussion and agreement of such ‘code’ would have simplified much the interaction between group members and given back at least part of the lost potential. Knowing that everybody respects the rules, members would have also less likely expressed negative evaluative statements (attitudes), as they knew everybody has to conform to the same rules. The statement of equity lets members think that they are ‘managed’ under Theory Y, and feel more appreciated and noticed, more important to the group’s goal. Also, the leader should have noticed from the beginning, as all of us did, that the personality of some members was incongruent with the group’s cooperative working, and therefore should have stressed the point on the general interests.
Another strategy would have been to intervene structurally on the team during the task, while dissents are being expressed. When, for example, one group member (Mani) expressed his dissatisfaction in relation to the task given to him, the leader might have intervened by changing his assignment. However, this leads us to think that, in the long run, this strategy would not be feasible and head to a less stable group, as the authority may be taken over or at least attacked by singular voices that aim at improving the condition of the individual and leave aside the team’s interests.
Therefore, the best and most suitable strategy would be the one that was described first. Despite being less instantaneous and more time-consuming, it would eventually lead to greater advantages for the group, which would be able to collaborate in a way that emphasizes the team’s survival and success and therefore lead to greater performance over time. In addition, such strategy would also lead to increased communication quality, which in turn would be a trigger to solve minor problems like the in-dept SWOT analysis, and would also reinforce the good lead that Ben demonstrated to have, bringing in even greater potential for the team.
In conclusion, we affirm that despite its weaknesses, the team was able to perform the assigned task effectively, but it had to deal with problems that, if were given the right urgency and importance in the beginning, and if faced in the specified manner, would have been overcome and the team would have probably reached a higher level of achievement.