You’re Fired!
Week Seventeen: Congratulations! You’ve Reached Level Three

The eighteen Apprentice candidates lived and worked together for several months. They must have gotten to know quite a bit about each other and, undoubtedly, friendships formed. It sounds a bit like summer camp. For this final task, Tana and Kendra were each reunited with three of their former camping buddies. You’d think they’d be pleased to work with their friends but that wasn’t the case.

In private, Tana’s first question was “Any chance of changing around our team?” She told Caroline they were the “Three Stooges.” Kendra called her team a bunch of scatter brains. However, in public they were all smiles. During Week 2, this column discussed how attitudes set expectations. Now it was Tana and Kendra’s turn to be the teacher and set their teams’ expectations.

The First Day of Class

Kendra’s team consisted of Michael, Danny and Erin. Together they were expected to organize and run the Best Buy Video Game Championship. Kendra began like a traditional teacher letting them know she was going to run a “seriously tight ship.” She had a rocky start. She wasn’t prepared and her team behaved very much like a class of unmotivated students. The only initiative they showed was when Danny grabbed the clients for a meeting without Kendra and serenaded them with his jingle about the team.

Student teachers are often taught to begin the school year as strict disciplinarians. Following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this appeals to the second tier of human needs – the desire for stability and consistency in a chaotic world. Erin made it clear that this need wasn’t being met when she said it was Kendra’s responsibility to “monitor” her team.

Once Kendra wrestled the clients from Danny and walked them through the venue, the project flowed smoother. She did a good job of giving both the clients and the team a vision of the event.

Invisible Walls

Tana’s team consisted of Brian, Chris and Kristen. They were expected to organize and run NYC2012 Athlete Challenge, an exhibition to help bring the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to New York. Tana approached her team differently than Kendra. With a brave smile she delegated major tasks to her team and told them they were at liberty to make decisions without her. In private she made it clear that she would have no problem firing any of them.

The first problem with this strategy was that the team was made up of the three contestants with the worst tempers. Maslow explains violence as the behavior that occurs when humans are deprived of lower needs such as safety. When safety – including stability and consistency – is provided, people can move to love needs. These include feelings of acceptance, appreciation and belonging. Not only did Tana’s team not feel accepted, they didn’t feel safe. From a psychological standpoint, she wasn’t meeting their needs.

From a practical standpoint, she had no implementation strategy. Tana’s choice is reminiscent of teachers who attempt project-based learning without preparing the students or doing the appropriate planning. Implementation strategies produce invisible walls that students sense as a safety net. Rather than being set up to fail, they are being set up to succeed. Effective project-based learning must have a clear implementation strategy that includes descriptions of:

  • The content that will be explored
  • The strategies the students will follow to explore and learn that content
  • The methods that will be used to evaluate their understanding

If Tana had built these “invisible walls” her team may have been more comfortable about their ability to successfully perform the task. Instead they sensed the incongruity between Tana’s words and her feelings. They began to run amok.

From Smelly Feet to Smelling Like a Rose

Back at the Video Game Championship, Kendra still had problems. Due to some contractual agreements, Kendra had to put the Sony PlayStation kiosks in the basement. Not only was the space not cool, it smelled like feet. PlayStation gave Kendra until the next morning to fix the problem or they would consider pulling their sponsorship. Kendra asked Michael for his help. This would require transforming the space. Michael accepted the challenge saying “It is done. Don’t worry.” Kendra’s appreciation was genuine and effusive.

Kendra pulled her team and her event together. The event was a success and when the team left, Kendra told them how proud she was of them. Kendra felt her team had worked harder for her than they had for themselves. This sense of belonging is the third step in Maslow’s hierarchy.

Good Enough for Government Work

The same love fest wasn’t happening at the Olympic venue. Poor communication and bickering were the sports of choice. Brian and Chris were busy hanging banners poorly. They decided it was “good enough for government work.” The programs Kristen had designed were late. When they finally arrived they couldn’t be distributed because personal comments about the athletes were included. Tana openly criticized her team. Despite the glitches behind the scenes, NYC2012 was a success.

In the boardroom, both contestants were congratulated and both were questioned about their challenges. Tana acted like the classroom teacher whose class completed the assignment only because she stayed on top of the task. Kendra, on the other hand, was more like the teacher who decided to experiment with project-based learning and, despite some early stumbles, ended up with a team proud of their accomplishment. Which will The Donald choose as his apprentice?

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