Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Apprentice week 8 analysis, RWA: Effective Collaboration

Summary: We know collaboration often brings greater benefits than competing or working alone. So how come we don't do it more often? The answer is simple: fear. This post reviews the combined episodes 8/9 of The Apprentice Australia and offers a Real-World Application (RWA) in how to overcome fearful states and promote effective collaboration.

Review of episodes 8 & 9
Taking both episodes together, we saw the remaining candidates exhibit many of their habitual behaviour patterns - with effects both good and ill.

Sabrina was fired in the first half of the episode for her poor conflict management ability and for the cardinal sin of fence-sitting. Faced with Mary-Anne and Heather's respective versions of self-assertion and the sparks that resulted, Sabrina seemed to just step back and keep herself out of the fray. Sabrina called them a pair of "bossy-boots" and stated that she found Heather "forceful" (with strong negative connotation) yet while the clear conflict and tension between her teammates had a negative effect on performance, she did nothing. Her response in the Boardroom on the conflict was: "I'm in the middle." To which Mark Bouris replied, "That's not a good place to be" and Sabrina exclaimed, "Oh!" in a small voice, unaware that her withdrawal and conflict avoidance would be her downfall.

This was a missed opportunity for her to engage with the other two authentically, perhaps to admit that she frankly didn't know what to do but that something needed to be done to address the conflict. It's hard to say what the result would have been, but often an honest admission and willingness to name the elephant in the room is enough to get people thinking differently. That Sabrina felt out of her depth was clear when in the Boardroom she added: "I think it takes character to step up and admit that you are not qualified to do something." She's right, and here I think we finally got a glimpse of the authentic Sabrina...but the timing was tragically too late and she paid the price.

Mary-Anne was this week's second departure, fired for a lack of collaboration and "mateship" with Morello on the Shopping Channel challenge. Having fair bowled Morello over to be Project Leader, her style as leader demonstrated poor judgement in product choice for him to sell and in failing to do for him as he had done for her: support a team member in a moment of difficulty.

Mary-Anne's strong focus on competence has in past weeks prompted her to put her hand up and take reponsibility straightaway when things have gone wrong (particularly on the Mudgee Pub Night challenge). This is to her credit, an example of her Pacesetting leadership style at work, with an expectation of competence and very high standards for performance. Where it falls down for her was shown this week, as Morello fell afoul of those same high standards by making a simple mistake, and was punished with laughter, isolation and embarrassment. For her intolerance, she got fired.

Heather was very assertive about how to do the band makeover in the first challenge in the all-girls team, then not assertive enough about how to run the teleprompting when paired with Gavin on second challenge, which invites consideration of just how well she works with female colleagues (from my recollection, most of her head-butting in past episodes has been in all- or majority-female teams). As I'd said in the week 8 preview, her take-charge, my-way-or-the-highway style produced conflict, which she showed she still has to learn how to manage. In the first challenge, having appointing herself the lead for two of the tasks, Heather once again overextended herself: she initiated a last-minute remix of the band's demo tape (the quality of which came in for harsh criticism by the music industry execs) and running dangerously behind schedule with the band's styling appointment.

Meanwhile in the Boardroom it took Heather a long time to back herself on the subject of her conflict with Mary-Anne. She practically needed to receive permission from Mark Bouris before stating her opinion on the matter. Based on the music execs' reaction to her presentation, I think she gets easily triggered by hearing advice and feedback (however constructive) and responds emotionally by trying to explain herself. In the final episode I think she'll place second; what costs her the victory will be inflexibly expecting things to be done her way, lack of awareness of her effect on others, and the combination of timidity at making a case for her value-add/reactivity towards advice that is actually meant to help her to develop and grow.

I looked to Gavin for some real changes this week and to my delight we were treated to a very different side of him in both of this week's challenges. After my plea last week for him let people in and be more genuine, I think he has shown us some authenticity. As with all new behaviours, it doubtless felt pretty strange for him and from the outside it looked a bit awkward, but full credit to him for stepping outside his comfort zone. The question for him in the final will be whether the pressure and the presence of previously-fired candidates will rekindle the old interpersonal dynamics and cause him to revert to game-playing. Even if he continues with his new-found authentic behaviour, it may be too little, too late to win the trust of the Boss and win the competition. A respectable third place and some invaluable and insightful life lessons will be his reward.

Throughout this competition it's been easy to think of Morello as the kind of guy you could easily work with: friendly, ethical, creative, practical and a cool head under pressure. Sure he's really high-energy and (as Gavin quipped this week) always needs to be the centre of attention, but for a guy his age those are unsurprising and not insurmountable traits. More to the point, we haven't seen from him either the shameless ego-tripping or the egoless "shrinking violet" behaviour that's been the downfall of other candidates.

To quote the saying again, people are most often hired on experience, fired on personality. I think Morello will be Australia's first Apprentice in what could be a case of someone hired for their personality in order to develop the needed experience. If so, well done to him for his perseverance and to his Boss for making a choice that's most likely to reap great developmental and performance results for them both.

Why it's so Hard to Collaborate: Three Kinds of Personal Fear

"We know the good...but do not do it."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche (attributed)

Throughout The Apprentice Australia series we've seen so-called "teams" tearing themselves apart during the challenges and particularly in the Boardroom. I've previously characterized this as a little more than a corporate dogfight pit.

In a recent post, Charles H. Green talked about Why it's so hard to collaborate, concluding that personal fear undermines collaboration. When you think about it, this makes sense and in this way The Apprentice rings true: with a format designed to foster infighting and trigger candidates into fearful, limbic responses, it reminds us in the audience of behaviour we've all experienced before in organizational setting. With this twinge of recognition (and the safe distance of impersonally watching it happen to someone else) the program hooks its viewers.

I want to suggest there are three main kinds of fear at work here:
  1. Knowledge is power - triggered by strong feelings and emotions, intrusive/demanding people or situations, being surprised, broken confidences, dishonesty, out-of-control situations, and feeling inadequate or powerless, one fear response is, "I'll keep all the cards to myself, then I'll be the expert and everyone will have to rely on me." An example of this behaviour in the series was Lynton - nonemotional, positioning himself as the expert and being unwilling to collaborate with others. There were moments when Carmen displayed this behaviour ("I'm in it for me," power's all that matters, no team focus) and Mary-Anne too, for example when she was hard on herself for lacking the knowledge she thought she needed and displayed intolerance and impatience toward Sabrina and Morello when she thought they were incompetent.

  2. Distrustful/What if...? - triggered by feeling helpless, out of control, in danger or potential harm, subject to pressure, and/or experiencing a lack of commitment, this second fear response is to constantly ask oneself "What if this happens? What if that happens?" while trying to keep oneself safe from entanglements or commitments - which looks from the outside like hanging back, being guarded and disconnected from others. We saw this behaviour primarily from Blake, totally hanging back and seeming noncommittal about most tasks, getting fired in the end because he was unable or unwilling to come forward. As discussed last week, Gavin and Sabrina have also at times hidden their genuine selves behind masks and game-playing.

  3. Difficult/painful situations - triggered by frustrations, restraints, limitations, painful situations or feelings, boredom or routine, feeling dismissed, not taken seriously or unjustly criticized, this fear response seeks to avoid the situation entirely by shifting focus or substituting some other topic. Heather has demonstrated this by consistently avoiding feedback, by being unaware to come to grips with the negative effect her assertive (forceful) behaviour has on others and being unable to deal constructively with conflict. Similarly, Morello's laughing/joking personable style has the benefit of helping him avoid hardship, steering clear of tough situations.

Real-World Application (RWA): Effective collaboration

Charles Green's piece on collaboration ends with the following observation:
There are two simple approaches to lowering fear. One is to mitigate risk. The other is to stop being so fearful. The first one is getting most of the press; we need more of the second. [emphasis added]
To address each of the three most common fear reactions listed above, here are a few pointers:
  1. Offer well-researched and detailed content, specific and fact-based; strive to reduce the emotional charge of content and depersonalize/be objective; conduct meetings and make announcements in appropriate, agreed-upon venues; make sure you include an open Q&A session for people to request clarification and details.

  2. Build rapport before moving into content, then use clear statements of goals and intent with concrete specifics; give reassurance about the exact magnitude of problem to help people avoid catastrophizing/assuming the worst; create opportunities for people to play devil's advocate and challenge authority (don't dismiss this as "resistance" because there's often useful information to be gained from differing perspectives); communicate the underlying motives and reasons for changes; provide assurances of support and ongoing communication; where possible offer people options from which to choose; give suggestions early on to help people foresee positive outcomes.

  3. Offer executive summaries and "quick overviews"; allow for expression of people's creative input (even if not strictly-speaking on track with the subject matter at hand); affirm people's competence and use a strengths-based approach to any training/developmental requirements; offer a variety of communication modes/channels (fast-paced, visual, interactive); validate people's experiences and perspectives; don't "pull rank" and try to enforce a change through command-and-control.

Building Bridges of Collaboration

People in organizations must continually deal with change. As a leader/manager, your challenge is two-fold: to face your own feelings and reactions to change and then to effectively lead your team through their own reactions (fear, anger, etc.)...and all this while doing your "day job" and delivering the tangible results that you're paid to make happen.

Managing fear and promoting collaboration requires you to know what to say and how to say it. When leaders add this to their already long list of tasks, it can seem a bit overwhelming.

That's where tmc can help.

As you build the bridge that will take you and your team from where you are to where you need to be, tmc can act as an invaluable support. You'll gain peace of mind knowing that structures and processes are in place to address the people issues associated with your change project. With this assurance, you'll be free to concentrate on delivering the work required of you, benefitting from the high performance and increased productivity that comes from a positive team environment.

To find out more contact me directly. We can have a conversation to explore your particular situation and context, helping you achieve clarity on where you are, where you need to be, and how to build the bridges that will get you there.

Note: For those of you outside Australia who wish to view the episodes of The Apprentice Australia that I'm discussing in this series of posts, you can find them on YouTube here. Meanwhile if you're in Australia you can see not only the episodes to date but also post-episode video diaries on the Nine website here.

Related previous posts:
Analysis of episode 1, RWA: Foundation & Force
Preview of episode 2, RWA: Conflict Management
Apprentice week 2 analysis, RWA: Giving/Receiving Feedback using Head & Heart
Apprentice week 3 analysis, RWAs: Team Leadership and Setting a Team Culture
Apprentice week 4 analysis, RWA: Coaching for high performance

Apprentice week 5 analysis, RWA: "The Relationship is the Customer"
Apprentice week 6 analysis, RWA: The FIT model
Apprentice week 7 analysis, RWA: Authentic Emotional Intelligence

Apprentice episode 8 preview: double trouble

Photo credit: Bridge


Adi Nagara said...

Have you read Fear is Power by Anthony Gunn, Todd? If you have, would you recommend it?

Todd Montgomery said...

Hi Adi,
Thanks for your comment. I've not read with Anthony Gunn's "Fear is Power" but I have heard of his work with treating phobias and helping people overcome debilitating fear so I can understand the connection you're making.
Emotions are essentially energy, and anxiety is no exception. If we never experienced any anxiety nothing would matter and we'd have no motivation to get out of bed! Conversely, too much anxiety triggers our Emotional Reactive style (a.k.a. Survival Strategy) and can produce some really poor decision-making.
Of course, at the extreme high anxiety can render people we have all experienced when called upon while daydreaming to answer a question, or when invited to suddenly do some public speaking!
Look forward to your future comments!