You’re Fired!
Week Two: May The Happiest Team Win

How many motivational speakers does it take to change an attitude? Net Worth should have been walking on sunshine. They won the first contest, dined at 21 and learned from Donald Trump that they had triple the income of their Book Smart competitors. So how did they go from winners to providing their motel guests with “the worst ever” experience?

Attitude Sets Expectations

One of America’s first motivational speakers, Thomas Jefferson, said “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” From the moment Brian volunteered to be Project Manager there was trouble. “This week was like watching Jerry Springer! Almost everyone should have been fired.” Tim Knapp, CEO of Nextant Systems was not happy with the performance he saw.

Great performers are cognizant of their audience’s needs. They set the stage with their visible attitude – including body language, professional image, etc. Offering your hand, smiling and making eye contact results in predictable positive responses. Conversely, acting nervous, mumbling and staring at your shoes creates a negative first impression that’s hard to overcome.

Neither Brian nor Michael did themselves any favors at the beginning of this challenge. They both presented a dictatorial attitude by ignoring input from team members, refusing to establish budgets and schedules, and walking away from the team accountants. Responding to Brian’s attitude, Kristen did everything possible to see that Brian failed. Verna’s response to Michael was to simply quit. By taking some time early in the process to set expectations and reach consensus on the goals, tasks and responsibilities, both team leaders could have saved themselves considerable time and grief.

Teach Your Children Well

The contest of “Book Smarts” versus “Street Smarts” provides an opportunity to highlight the pros and cons of traditional education and project-based/hands-on learning. One of the keys to effective learning is establishing the student’s expectations. Traditionally, teachers are counseled to behave much like Brian and Michael by “starting tough” presuming that this will allow them to maintain control of the classroom. However, control should not be the ultimate goal and often results in students with attitudes like Kristen and Verna’s. They either work to sabotage the teacher or they drop out.

A teacher that conveys an attitude of excitement, acceptance and interest is better able to engage students in the learning process. It’s no surprise that these are the same teachers who have less discipline problems, time for individual instruction and more successful students. The same is true of team leaders.

It Was An Experience

“It was a slippery slope” suggested Tim Knapp. “Team members didn’t want to be left out of the loop and Brian didn’t want to be questioned. The battle was in full swing.” John tried to salvage the team he’d built last week by counseling Brian that they couldn’t win the task with his attitude. His attempt at diplomacy failed; the team imploded.

Danny, last week’s goat, saved the day for Magna when he told the hotel guests there was going to be a party that evening. The rooms weren’t in great shape and the new paint smell was strong but, hey, the guests weren’t in their rooms anyway. They were on the patio and in the pool partying with their Magna hosts. Magna made it easy for them to overlook the rooms in favor of the experience.

On the other hand, Net Worth went from bad to worse when they lured their guests out of the shabby rooms to witness screaming matches between the team members.

Are Brian’s poor team work and communication skills a result of his truncated education? Are we to assume that it’s not until college that students are schooled in management and workplace skills? Not necessarily. Project-based learning activities offer powerful opportunities for K-12 students to learn and apply both content and workplace skills.

The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce’s High Tech Edge’s Capstone Program is a great example. Champaign County high school students have worked through high stress situations without tantrums. Creating a 3D model of One Main before the construction was completed was no easy task. “Two weeks before the model was to be presented to the client, we were scrambling” explained Capstone alumni Zach Milt. Zach, a senior at Fisher High School, has been consulting with this year’s team. “Sure, there were some personality clashes and some extreme pressure but it’s the client that matters. You take a deep breath, keep working and make it happen.”

These students really have a winning attitude. Perhaps they should be the next group of Apprentices.

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