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Competitive Apprentices Lose Competition or Let go of Personal Success to have Personal Success

October 20, 2010

The Losing Team

I’m now going to admit one of  my secret vices (along with Mad Men and yes, I admit it the Archers).I watch “The Apprentice” and  pretend to myself that I  watch it out of academic interest but I really have to  admit that I am watching it for both the laugh out loud factor and also the inevitable – I can’t bear this any longer watch through your fingers moment.  The last episode didn’t disappoint and was probably the most dismal performance by both teams, ever.  ( If you are a sucker for this kind of thing you can still catch it on BBC IPlayer – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00vdc37/The_Apprentice_Series_6_Beach_Accessory/). The team’s task was to invent a new beach accessory that would appeal to a mass market and sell it and both teams failed on both counts.  Team Synergy invented a beach towel with a cooler pillow -” The Cuuli”  and the Team Apollo invented a device to hold your book on the beach “The Book-eeze”. Neither were particularly inventive and neither solved a consumer problem.  Unsurprisingly sales were low if at all.  The Beach Towel took one small order and the Book Holder took none.

So what led to this murky performance amongst those who are competing to be Lord Alan Sugar’s next bright thing?   More than anything it was a focus on individual rather than team success that led to disaster. It led to bad ideas being taken forward by over assertive members  and less assertive members allowing it to happen, divorcing themselves from responsibility for fear of being held accountable. (Ironically, this is what happened – with the firing of Joy.)

So how did this all play out ? In this episode,  Laura, the elected project manager, struggled with the task of managing and leading this competitive cackle, then  allowed the team to be led autocratically from the side by Joanna. Laura, may of  thought that she was leading democratically but  in all but title, let go of the  leadership entirely.  Joanna, wrested control and asserted herself at every opportunity, talking over others and making her point heard regardless of whether it was a good or not.

“I’m going to speak over you. I’m sorry to be rude.” Joanna could be heard to say, clearly not meaning it at all.

She received little or no feedback on the effect of her behaviour and the leader and  team itself  let go of group responsibility for overall success, choosing  instead to moan and blame from the sidelines or to say too late that it was a bad idea.   Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this was a fault of just Joanna or Laura, it was the dynamic and unconscious consent of the group that created the tyrant, allowing Joanna to fill the leadership void and lead them to failure.

If we look at this from the point of view of social psychology it is clear that a number of things were at play:

  • Team Apollo, at least for this task became competitive and was led from the side lines by an autocratic leader, who mistook, having her voice heard and her idea taken forward as success. We know that democratic groups are more successful – they have higher productivity, they are more creative and behave more on task even when the leader is absent.
  • The group conformed even when individuals within the group knew the idea was wrong.  If the opinion is said consistently and with enough authority, people tend to go along with it.  (See Milgrams’ Electric Shock experiments as far back as 1963!) So the group went along with Joanna’s idea  due to it being said often enough and with enough assertion.
  • This group is at the point of competition rather than collaboration and see and experience each other as competitors. When they are in this space they cannot hold each other as being fundamental to each others success and are engineered to behave and think  as individuals rather than as a group. (Power of Situation)
  • They  have lost sight of the long game where group success brings personal success as well.

So what could they do differently?

  • Create and agree their social rules as a group – agree behavioural rules that will allow the whole group to shine. By this they will create the right environment for success.  – Social Psychologist think that situations are more powerful than character (“fundamental attribution error”).  As humans we tend to overestimate the power of personality and underestimate the influence of the social situation – by creating the kind of social environment that can allow all individuals to contribute and flourish you will negate the power of one overly assertive individual.  Groups often think that creating ‘ground rules’ are an  unnecessary waste of time when they could be getting on with the task. However, they can be a powerful part of group formation, allowing open discussion of group working, value formation and granting permissions
  • Agree a group outcome that is bigger than the outcome of individual success. This outcome needs to be more than just completing the task and include how people personally contribute and work together to achieve overall success

and most of all

  • being able to let go of the imperative and immediacy of personal success to make space for group success which in turn will give you the success you desire.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2012 11:36 pm

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    • March 27, 2012 10:43 am

      Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I haven’t blogged for a while as life has felt very busy and your comments have inspired me to finish some pending blogs.. thank you again.

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