The show we chose was Whale Wars, a controversial program about a group named Sea Shepherd who tries to save whales from “illegal” whalers. The first season was recorded between November 2007 and February 2008 and shown on Animal Planet, starting from November 7, 2008. In our observation exercise we focused on the Sea Shepherds, who formed a team of about 20-30 people, of which about 8 were active in this episode. The boat the Shepherds were on is called the Steve Irwin. The team consists of volunteers of multiple different nationalities, backgrounds, and work environments, guided by captain Paul Watson (co-founder of Greenpeace). The episode we chose was Season 1 Episode 2 called: “Nothing’s Ideal”, which took place in the Antarctic, in Australian waters. In episode 2 the goal of the team is to cause a global incident by putting two of their members on the Japanese ship, who would become the hostages of the Japanese whalers. This would be an attempt to stop the Japanese ship from whaling, because every moment they are busy getting away, is a moment they cannot hunt.
In our individual observations we had a couple of similarities. We all saw that this is a very diverse group with a common goal, of which some members are willing to give everything and others have a different limit. Also, the group lacks structure. Impressions differed on the experience of some team members, for one part experienced meant skills on the boat, for the other part life experiences, being more or less practised in protecting nature. They all seem to be motivated but some are more radical in their ideas and actions. What makes these people a group is their common goal of saving the whales. They are all different in their nationalities and job skills, which has an impact on the way they work, the medical staff for example wouldn’t be able to fly the helicopter or to guide the boat. So even though they all have great differentiation, they all connect and unite for their common goal of saving the whales. We had some different opinions about the way the volunteers interacted with each other. Some saw the group as people creating friendships between the different members on the ship, while others saw it more as colleagues who had a job to do - to save the whales.
Based on the different communication interactions we saw in the episode like verbal and nonverbal reactions, we came to the conclusion that this group only sticks together because of their target. Furthermore whenever a new person was talking a text box was shown with their name, their nationality and job, which helped showing the great diversity in the group.
According to the question whether there was evidence of prejudice, discrimination, or the use of stereotype we think that there was evidence of prejudice on the Steve Irwin, not inside the team, but from the team towards the Japanese whalers. When talking about the Japanese whalers they would always refer to them as “the Japanese”, and not as “the whalers”. This implies a prejudice towards the Japanese in general, even though of all the Japanese only a few hunt whales. A stereotype was mentioned by the captain towards the whalers. He would always say, “Whenever they see us, they run”. This however can’t be said that easily, because did the captain have this experience with all the boats? Probably only with a few, which makes this a stereotype.
Based on our observations of the group, we have found a couple of strengths and weaknesses in this group. Their main strength is the focus on their common goal, which unites them all. This is what motivates and drives them, to save the whales, and makes them all work together to accomplish this.
Another strength about this group is the way they support each other. There is a good spirit; everyone is taking care of each other. For example when two people decide to go aboard the Japanese ship, they decide to write a letter for the Japanese whalers explaining the situation, because no matter how crazy the idea of going on another ship is, the other volunteers will support them.
In accordance with the search for team strengths and weaknesses, one of the weaknesses they have is that most of the members have different limits of what they will do to save the whales. Most shy away from giving their life for the whales. This is a boundary for many that they aren’t prepared to cross. Another weakness of this group is the commander, the captain. He decides what is going to happen and everyone just accepts and obeys his ideas. They aren’t critical or creative when meeting with the group. They just listen to the captain and don’t really argue or criticize the captains “radical” ideas. One can observe this during the meetings when they just accept the captains’ plans, but later when he’s not there they talk about how crazy it seems for them. This could be referred to as an unwritten rule for interaction, that nobody questions the captain, and it is a serious communication problem.
In our view, the biggest problem in the crew is the lack of communication between captain and team. As listed before, the team isn’t open in their meetings. The captain is just implementing his ideas and the members just accept it. One can also see it as strength that there is one leader and that there aren’t 20 in the room. However, our problem with this is that one isn’t always right, and although there is a leader, he should be open for critique or new ideas. In our view, this is also something managers should do.
How can we solve this problem?
-More participation in group meetings
-Everyone has a say
-They shouldn’t be afraid to give critique about an idea
- Implementing a feedback culture, where everyone can voice his ideas or concerns and where the leader (captain) is open-minded for this and accepts it
-One on one meetings
-Meetings with the captain?
-Better input so all voices are heard
-Multiple levels of hierarchy
-Each level is open for input or ideas
The strategy that we regard as the best is to have more participation in group meetings. This can happen by discussing the ideas before implementing them so everyone can give some input. The participants should be more creative and active during the meetings. One way to implement this would be a plan-board on which they can vote for ideas like they do at IDEO. This would also result in more empowerment, the members would have greater choices over what is going to happen, so they can all support it and give input for this idea.
For us this seems the best idea to tackle this issue, and would also make it most fair for all the other volunteers.