The OPPrentice - Episode 10

Posted 07 July 2011 by

On last night’s Apprentice we saw two teams in conflict, operating with a severe lack of strategy or guidance from either of the Project Managers.

While Natasha’s team may have won this week’s challenge, despite missing the point of the task and incurring a hefty fine, it was a somewhat hollow victory, with neither team really grasping the essence of what the task was really about.

Here at OPP Towers we found it interesting to see that this lack of strategy and general misunderstanding of the task seemed to come mostly from the Project Managers, or indeed from those with the strongest capacity to influence. Indeed, the failure of both Project Managers to listen to the very valid concerns of their team members was undoubtedly a big contributor to both teams essentially failing in the task.

Helen, who is normally razor sharp when it comes to spotting opportunities and getting to the crux of the task, was undoubtedly a major contributor to the failure of her team in this particular task. Focusing on a strategy of targeting retailers showed a severe lack of understanding over the fundamentals of profit margins. Spending four hours driving across London to buy duvets for a sale worth £3 each in profit did make us question her (usually very strong) sense of business acumen.

Undoubtedly, the most surprising moment of the task was the so-called ‘…coup in the kitchen’ where Helen openly challenged Melody’s leadership and suggested she take over. As Lord Sugar mentioned, this was a first for the Apprentice, with no contestant ever adopting such a strategy previously. While this may have been an effective strategy in principle, given Melody’s lack of clear leadership, Helen’s fundamental error in targeting retailers makes us question whether such a change in leadership would have resulted in a different outcome.

Melody seemed lost in this task and was more than happy to follow Helen’s strategy of targeting retailers, suggesting that she also was unaware of the fundamental flaws associated with this approach. Under a more decisive project manager this strategy may have been knocked on the head in the early stages and the team may have stood a chance of winning.

It seemed to be only Tom in this team who showed a real grasp of what the task was about – reinvesting in products that sold (notably the nodding dogs.) Putting on a strong sales performance he went some way in demonstrating to Lord Sugar that he has the capacity to learn new skills and demonstrated a flexibility in taking on tasks that were outside of his natural preferences. However, as has been interesting with Tom throughout the process, although he has good ideas and can often see the flaws behind certain strategies, he lacks the capacity to influence his colleagues and shows a weakness in expressing his views. Whether this is down to a lack of courage in his convictions or just a lack of experience when working with very dominant personalities remains to be seen.

Over to Natasha’s team… Natasha, as project manager, also displayed a fundamental lack of understanding over the task. She operated with the strategy of selling as much stock as she could, without grasping the idea that they needed to reinvest alongside this – and that it was total assets, not just total cash, that would win them the task. She displayed a very authoritarian style of leadership, seeking to influence her team through sheer dominance and bullying tactics against those who sought to question her strategy.

Jim attempted many times to point out the flaws in her strategy and the need to reinvest, which fell on deaf ears. Susan, despite showing an error of judgement in attempting to target up-market Knightsbridge in her door to door sales strategy, did redeem herself by showing creativity in buying and very effectively selling the bracelets. Natasha attempted to deflect blame by suggesting the failure of the task was down to Susan acting like a child. Natasha’s biggest failing, in our view, was her failure to admit her mistakes and listen to her team mates, showing little or no appreciation of their contribution.

It was interesting to see the different strategies used by the candidates for handling conflict. The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument articulates five conflict styles – competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Apprentice contestants are rarely strangers to the competing style, with Helen, Melody, and Natasha in particular displaying high assertiveness and low co-operation, their end goal being very much to win.

Tom, and to some extent Susan, showed a more accommodating style, being quick to yield to the views of others. Jim showed some evidence of a more collaborative approach to managing conflict with Natasha, seeking to find a win-win solution. This may stand in his favour if he is able to adopt a similar strategy in future tasks.

While a certain degree of conflict and difference of opinion within teams can be a positive force, avoiding phenomena such as ‘group think’ and ensuring that new ideas are introduced into the group, the failure of both teams on this task highlights the detrimental effect that a high level of conflict within teams, combined with a lack of clear leadership, can have on overall effectiveness.

With next week being the episode that determines the final four, it will be interesting to see which of the candidates shows the strongest resilience in putting this task behind them and showing the ability to learn from their mistakes.

Posted in