Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lessons from The Amazing Race: Building Successful Teams

Never mind The Apprentice. We have learning lessons galore from another reality competition The Amazing Race. If you want to learn about winning teams, this is the place to go.

Race 17 has three top contender pairs whose team dynamics are very different from one another. Let's take a look.

Team: Thomas and Jill

Thomas and Jill, a dating couple, have been strong contenders from Race One. He, the Ad Sales Director and graduate of Notre Dame. She, the very fit hair stylist whose spelling Thomas feels compelled to correct. They don't yet seem completely comfortable with each other and one might question the degree to which Thomas respects Jill. Though we may worry for the longevity of this relationship, this imbalance may be exactly the catalyst that propels this team to success. For Thomas and Jill, winning is partly about proving themselves to each other. Thomas has to succeed because he has presented himself to Jill as the one who knows all. She on the other hand is determined to show Thomas that she is as good (and better) than he. Thomas, the self-established leader, pushes Jill hard and she (though perhaps frustrated) responds well his verbal barbs. As an added dimension to what drives this team to success, it would go against Thomas' self image to perform less than Jill. So while he's externally pushing Jill, he's internally pushing himself to make sure he performs as well or better than her.

Team: Nat and Kat

Nat and Kat are two female doctors and close friends. Their success is the opposite of Thomas and Jill's. They succeed by mutual respect and support. Both of them are equal in terms of smarts, fitness and willing to do what it takes to win. This kind of long term close friendship pair is risky in teams. Research has shown that as team members get comfortable, they are less likely to rock the boat by challenging each other. (See link 1 at the bottom of this post which includes the following statement, "congeniality taking precedence over the introduction of ideas that might prove unpopular.") This can lead to mistakes, lack of creative thinking and/or laziness. Luckily for Nat and Kat, each member of this duo is individually self-motivated. They remind me of the slow and steady wins the race concept.

Team:Brook and Claire.

Brook and Claire. The Home Shopping Co-Hosts. Their success is clearly a function of the overwhelming, never-ending energy and enthusiasm (and fitness!) of Brooke, the exuberant blond and the tireless do-what-it-takes-to-please-Brook persistence of Claire. Brooke is a tough but loving coach. Claire can be fainting or vomiting and Brook will shout out, "You can do this, Claire Bear" and do it she will. They both deserve a lot of credit; Brook for her contagious excitement over each little win and Clair for hanging in and succeeding against the odds.

Our lessons on creating winning teams

1) Members who are not yet comfortable with each other often strive extra hard to succeed.
2) Long term teammates can be successful if each member is individually motivated for the team to succeed and are mutually supportive
3) When skill levels are unequal, unbridled enthusiasm can propel each member to give more than they have to give for the team's success

Who am I cheering for in The Amazing Race finale? I'm hoping for one of the two-women teams to win. I like Nat and Kat a lot but it would also be fun to see Brook and Claire go wild at the finish point.

More on Teams here:

1)The Power and Challenges of Group Wisdom

2)1954 Psychology Experiment Provides Clues for Cooperative Work Among Distributed Work Environments

3) Managing Remote Employees

4) Group Mentoring: Keys to Success


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