Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reality TV and Teamwork

I'm currently hooked on two reality shows, "Top Chef" and "Design Star." I like both of these shows because they represent real jobs that people do, but put people in competitive and odd situations. Both jobs tend to be focused on the skill of an individual and yet, both shows put the contestants in situations where their success relies on their ability to work on teams. The tension between the individual nature of the job, the competitive nature of the show, and the need to work together is fascinating. Teamwork works best when people can be non-competitive and focus on succeeding at a goal as a group. So far, this season, the teamwork situations have been horrible as people lack a goal, lack an understanding of their role on the team, and compete with each other.

On "Top Chef," for example, one competition required participants to work in teams to prepare bar food in a truck. On both teams, the participants tended to focus on their own dishes. No one really helped each other and there was generally a lack of communication. This led to food coming out slowly or badly. The person who was eliminated at the end of the show was the weak link on one team, but it was pointed out that other members of the team should have said something to her. Both "Design Star" and "Top Chef" have had situations where the teams did not articulate a vision for their success. Individuals sometimes made decisions that didn't fit with the goal of the group. Also, people have shunned working with certain people even when those people have much needed skills for the team. For example, on "Design Star" Neeraja didn't choose Rob because she thought he was difficult to work with, but then she didn't have a enough carpenter skills on her team. She also failed to plan the project well. Her poor leadership and focus on her own success rather than the team's was her downfall.

Shows like these should be required viewing for people who must work in teams or committees because they often reveal quite clearly how and why teams work or don't work. I can think of many situations where competitiveness among individuals got in the way of a group's success. Learning how to focus on a shared vision and minimize competition and personality conflicts is hard, and I think most people assume that it will just happen and don't understand the underlying conflict that gets in the way. Talking through the reasons why the tv teams fail might help people see how their own teams and committees are failing and help them find ways to succeed.