Coaching the apprentice

Coaching the apprentice

It’s easy to watch The Apprentice and wonder how the candidates might possibly survive in the real world. It’s become an annual national pastime to watch the teams implode in their efforts to achieve a mutual goal, whilst outdoing one another, gaining maximum personal acclaim and pushing “teammates” under any passing bus, or indeed taxi home.

However, by its very nature, offering a huge investment in their business aspirations and the personal support of Lord Alan Sugar, the show is dog eat dog and the moments of genuine team cohesion are rare.

Where the ultimate goal is one of individual success, or is perceived to be so, the potential for such one-upmanship getting in the way of success, whether it is on TV or in real business, is ever present.

There will always be people who put personal glory above cohesion and the attainment of team goals. This leads to dysfunctional teams, albeit rarely as spectacularly fractious as those we see Lord Sugar’s trusted right-hand people Karren Brady and Claude Littner trailing, clipboards in hand.

For many bosses reading this, I would imagine this is viewed as a familiar scenario, which comes with a longing for Lord Sugar, Karren or Claude to give a step-by-step guide to eradicating the problem. Of course, they won’t; it wouldn’t make good, populist TV.

It’s true that, like with many “reality” TV shows, there will be an element of casting in The Apprentice, to ensure a mix of personalities “to make things interesting”, but one would doubt that any get through without any business skills or potential. Each, in the right environment, can thrive, but when it comes to team working, then sometimes there is a need for a helping hand to create the cohesion necessary for success.

One answer lies in good leadership, though for the moment let us look at the realms of team coaching for another, more holistic, solution.

The benefits of personal coaching are well-documented, but collective work with teams is becoming increasingly popular, due to the results it can deliver. It is the most natural thing in the world, when it comes to sport, so why shouldn’t it work in the business world? The truth is, it does.

It’s all about engaging the team and each individual in shared goals, the benefits of supporting one another, bringing the best out of colleagues and using their complementary skills and talent for the wider good.

It’s a cliché that no man is an island, but only because it is true. The skills of one can be enhanced by those around them and, once they come to understand this, even the most egotistical individual can come to learn that they can shine brighter together.

In the real world, the downfall of a team that fails to work together can come in many ways, ranging from outright conflict to merely under-par results. Either way, the end result is that the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts can be disproved.

Whether it is disenfranchisement among the less dominant members of the team, frustration for a “star” individual who believes others are holding him back, or simply a clash of personalities, the issues are coachable. Results can be improved. Supervisors can even be coached so that they can coach others and carry on the work of any external support, to ensure that the team cohesion is maintained and developed in line with changing goals and membership.

In many ways, a team in business can benefit from coaching in the same ways that a sports team can. It’s down to the quality of the coach and the willingness of the members to be coached.

We are unlikely to ever see this on The Apprentice, so don’t expect cohesion and team work any time soon. Just sit back, enjoy the entertainment and be grateful that the real life working world can be different.

Sharon Klein is a director of Azure Consulting, a Yorkshire-based specialist in leadership development.