Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Apprentice - Episode 7

It's a relief now there are fewer candidates because we are able to see each individual more clearly and we can focus on what works about each one. We can also see more clearly where the communication gaps are and boy, both teams suffered from massive communication gaps in last night's episode.

To begin with there was the communication tension as teams decided who would be project manager and then who would stay in the UK and who would go to New York City.

The Apprentice: Big Apple trip is rotten for someone 
Isn't Lord Sugar clever when he sets his tasks (or his advisors or the BBC or whoever is responsible).  

The candidates weren't being sent to Omaha; they were going to The Big Apple where the world could be one's oyster if you got the axiom right. So immediately there was going to be a conflict on who goes and who stays, which inevitably coloured subsequent interaction.

As usual, there was lots of finger pointing and blaming in the debrief once everyone was back in the Boardroom, with no one holding up their hand and taking responsibility yet again for the many mistakes that happened along the way.  

This is the pattern and expectation and of course part of the drama game we as viewers are used to as the show aims its cameras on the "You're fired!" finger of Lord Sugar.

As far as I'm concerned, the failures and mistakes were down to only one thing:  the poor communication between team members situated on both sides of the 'pond'.

This is something we see time and time again when we work with multinationals: breakdown in communication when there are team members who work remotely.  

Of course, breakdown in communication can and does happen when people sit right next to each other in an office, but there is far more chance of it happening when there's distance involved.

What was dismaying to see with this task is that on each side of the Atlantic the sub teams had very specific and separate remits which meant that more than ever continual communication had to happen and didn't.

Let's take Team Tenacity, who lost the task and then blamed each other because the design was crap, the ad was poor and so on.

They were a perfect example of 'out of sight, out of mind'. You do your bit over there, I do my bit over here and somehow, magically, it will all join up perfectly in the end...which it didn't.

They were supposed to be a team and make decisions as a team, so that the initial designs should have gone back and forth dozens of times to be critiqued, tweaked, binned, begun again, redesigned, tweaked again and eventually approved by everyone.  

There shouldn't have been any surprise when the boxes of drinks were opened, just delight that something everyone agreed on was finally produced as they envisioned.

Daniel and Katy's design may have been rubbish, but the communication or lack thereof was far more to blame than the design itself.

Recently Impact Factory worked with a couple of organisations with this very issue. One team across two continents (coincidentally, the UK - London, and the USA - New York City).  In each case our remit was to work with the teams on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time to see how they could communicate more efficiently and consistently. 

The parallel with The Apprentice is that these teams were each working on time constrained projects, had project managers in place, had sub teams and were already in danger of falling into the 'out of sight, out of mind' syndrome.

Or even better, the "I sent him and email" justification, as though sending an email was the same thing as effective communication.

So here are some tips for teams who work remotely, which both Apprentice Teams could have used to better tackle their tasks:

Everyone needs to be absolutely clear what his/her role is and what the expectations are.

Everyone needs a clear deadline.

Both teams need to be in communication with each other via phone, video conferencing/Skype, email to continually apprise, monitor, check in, review and most importantly, support each other. Even though each sub team and each individual in each sub team may have very specific objectives, the common goal is to achieve success. 

That means that the entire team is in it together and the more included people feel, the more chances there are of success.

Part of that 'feeling included' is to catch hiccups, mistakes, gaps, issues, conflicts just about as soon as they happen rather than placing blame after the fact if things go badly wrong.  Every project has it's problems and some simply can't be anticipated. If you deal with the problems as soon as they arise (as opposed to hoping they'll sort themselves out all on their own), then the team becomes stronger and more aligned.

Work it out till you get everyone's agreement. Even if you have to Skype till three in the morning, do whatever it takes to sort out differences.  Don't wait till the end of your project to unpick where it went wrong - that should be a time of celebration for how it went well. If you handle problems as they arise and work to resolve them, then everyone does feel on board.

Speaking of that, the project manager should be continually acknowledging and praising. Even when someone screws up, help fix the mistake and let the other person feel a valued member of the team.

Even if one part of the project isn't within someone's expertise, ask for their input anyway.  In our experience people have untapped vats of creativity within them and they can often see something that the 'expert' can't because they're too close to the situation.

There's a time and palace for ego. We're great fans of ego - you need it in order to feed your confidence that you'll be up to the job. Ego helps you push through, it creates drive and also feeds creativity, especially when deadlines loom.

On the other hand ego can really get in the way. It causes ugly competitiveness, as opposed to healthy competition. It can spark jealousy and a desire to destroy those you perceive as your rivals. It makes you blind to see what's needed. It often makes you unkind, self-obsessed and ungenerous. 

The trick is balancing those polar opposites so you have the drive without the destruction.

Projects are exhilarating, exhausting, humbling and of course necessary for any organisation to succeed.  Projects that are managed with remote team members have more of a chance of coming a cropper.

If you focus on communication and getting it as right as possible, you'll be on to a winner.




Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director

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