"The Apprentice", produced by Mark Burnett Productions in association with Trump Productions LLC under the supervision of Donald Trump himself, is a widely popular American Reality TV-show, in which the contesters compete for a job inside the Trump Corporation. The sixth episode in the fourth season stands apart from all the others, because one of the groups taking part into the challenge, the Excel Corporation, managed to have the biggest loss in the history of the show. The interactions occurring within this particular group, together with their contribution to the spectacular defeat of the team, shall be the main focus of this report. The present account will not only analyse the nature of the complex exchanges occurring among the members of Excel, but will also propose a strategy in order to improve the way in which the contestants cooperate and take into consideration the diverse opinions of the constituents of the group that authored this report.
Before commencing the depiction and study of the groups’ manner of working together, getting acquainted with the members of Excel and the nature of the task they had to perform is of paramount importance. The studied team had to design and use an interactive sales event based on a sport of their choice, in order to increase the sales of Dick’s Sporting Goods. The team that generated the biggest percentage in revenue increases for that sport in the store would win the task. In pursuit of the aforementioned goal, Excel chose baseball as their sport and decided to create a baseball diamond in the store, placing products at strategic around the display. The members of the group, James Dillon, Josh Shaw, Mark Lamkin, Jennifer Murphy ,Marshawn Evans, Brian Mandelbaum and Rebecca Jarvis failed to attain their goal and instead of improving, they made the sales of the baseball department decline by a considerable amount.
An overly-confident, somewhat efficient, team whose members take decisions in a democratic fashion, Excel is a surprisingly homogeneous group with regards to the biographical characteristics of its members, save for the gender ,which is distributed almost evenly. As such, in the manner of conducting their task there is little, if any, evidence of prejudice, discrimination, or the use of stereotypes. Team Excel, is in effect, a collection of individuals that have frequent contact, as they have been working together for the past six weeks, mutual influence, as observed predominately in the mistakes they make, a sense of camaraderie among them, diminished by the individual goal of winning the show, who work together to achieve a common goal. Despite the apparent alikeness among the individuals of the group, the members of the team display various different personality traits, which although they do not lead to the appearance of prejudice and discrimination, can hinder the way in which the team functions. For example, the leader of the team, Josh Shaw, displays throughout the episode a high level of agreeableness, being trusting and cooperative. Although such a trait would normally be a great asset in team work, his elevated propensity to defer to others leads him to fail to see the errors in judgment made by his fellow teammates.
In addition to the leaders’ apparent weakness, the studied group displays various problems
which contribute to their poor performance. The poor allocation of roles in Excel is obvious in
the widely different tasks the members have to perform. While Rebecca, Marshawn and
Brian were actually assigned to focus on the task of selling more products, their associates
had jobs that did little justice to their intellectual abilities, concentrating on the more
physical part of baseball. Thus, in some cases the work design did not allow the members the
opportunity to use their skills effectively and creatively. The low level of communication
present in the team, combined with a high amount of social loafing displayed by some of the
team members proves to be the most damaging problem of the group.
Their poor communication levels are evident in the fact that at a certain point, during the marketing event, Brian expressed his worries about the concept they chose to Rebecca, while instead he should have expressed them to Josh, the team leader. Team Excel is a clear proof of the cogent nature of the Asch experiments in group interaction, as the members that were not agreeing with the group chose to hide themselves inside the group, rather than express their concerns. Excel becomes a group that pressures for conformity, which has a dire effect on the individual member’s ability to voice their opinions and doubts. Closely related to the Excel’s problems of communication, are its lack of an accurate and common mental model together with the absence of reflexivity in the way they work together. The fact that the team has no common mental model whatsoever is obvious in the instance that in the middle of the task various members displayed little awareness of what their colleagues were doing. Furthermore, their failure to reflect and change their plan for completing the task, even when they were aware that it was going in the wrong direction, accounts for the teams’ lack of reflexivity. Moreover, as the original competitive teams of the show were tampered with at the beginning of this episode, the level of cohesiveness might have decreased considerably, as the original members of Excel might have been slightly reluctant to work with some of their former competitors.
Despite the considerable amount of weaknesses it shows, Excel is a team that presents considerable strength as well. Although they did not make use of it, because of the poor job allocation and structure, this team has an important strength: the variety in skills, knowledge and abilities that the different team members possess. Furthermore the climate of trust is adequate for cooperation, obvious in the fact that everyone in the team trusts each other’s judgment and capabilities as far as the task is concerned.
The low conflict levels in the team, mainly existent because of the high levels of social loafing and conformity present, can both be regarded as a detrimental or beneficial factor. While low conflict levels have a beneficial role in teams performing routine tasks, in a team like Excel, which is working on a nonroutine activity, the lack of conflict renders the team slightly stagnant and apathetic. Such attitudes are shown in the way in which some of the members unconsciously refuse to fully engage in the activity of the group.
There are various solutions to the problems that Excel has, solutions which in their own right could prove both beneficial or have a negative effect. The following table lists a series of proposed solutions, taking into consideration both their positive and negative implications.
As the main problems that lead to their spectacular loss was the poor choice of sport, together with the lack of communication among the members during the task, implementing a nominal group technique could be the solution to avert their poor performance. Thus the decision-making process should follow four steps:
1. Each member creates a number of personal ways of achieving the goal, in this case increasing the revenue of Dick’s sporting goods.
2. Each member presents one idea of his choice to the group.
3. Each presented idea is discussed
4. Each member silently ranks each idea and the idea with the highest rank would become the way in which the group will solve the task.
If the poor idea has already been agreed upon by the members of Excel, then the leader should take it upon himself to minimize the effect of groupthink and encourage the issue of different personal opinions from the members of the group. Thus, members like Brian, Rebecca and Marshawn would have the confidence to deviate from the group consensus and express their doubts. In order to do so, Josh, as project manager should seek to know the opinion of each of his teammates and appoint one of the members to take the role of the devil’s advocate and challenge the majority consensus and express a different perception on the discussed matter.
As a group formed of individuals with different backgrounds, the authors of this report had certain differences in their assessment of the Excel Corporation. While all the members were in agreement on points regarding the goal of the studied team, the behavior and personality of the contestants, there were some disparities regarding the extent to which the issues of the team affect its performance.
The moderate level of conflict on the perception of the issues of Excel did not prove to be detrimental to the performance of the group, for it led to in-depth discussions about the subject at hand. Furthermore, the disagreement on certain issues allowed the group to discuss the evidence it was presented with more thoroughly. Based on instances of poor verbal communications, uncharacteristic behaviors from the members of Excel and the concerns they expressed in smaller groups, the gathered evidence allowed a equilibrate analysis of the dynamics of the studied team.
All in all, Excel is a group of people whose individual abilities, skills and knowledge were poorly put to use. The interactions among the members, plagued with inefficient and insufficient communication, the overall tendency towards conformity and the absence o reflexivity overpowered the strengths of the group and contributed to the its loss. There are various ways in which Excel could avoid the unfortunate outcome, some of which were shown in the present account, yet it is easy to pass judgment when the final result is known. In effect, at the beginning of the task, all the members were confident in the success of their ideas and manner of implementing it.