Post Academic

Work Lessons From Reality TV: Teamwork

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionReality television gets a bad rap since it encourages and rewards vicious, lewd and unsanitary behavior. (Flavor of Love, Season Two, Episode One will never be topped in this department). But reality TV might be useful in terms of modeling good behavior, too, especially regarding teamwork, determination and adaptability.

Regarding teamwork, the first response to a team assignment is a collective groan, whether it is on TV or in the classroom. Most people see teamwork as torture because they have to compromise their vision or put up with bossy britches on one hand or slackers on the other.

There’s no question that it’s easier to work separately than on a team–but that’s not how it works in the Hamster World. That’s not even how it works in academia. Although people like to believe their solo scholarly work will get them jobs, their references and recommendations also play a role, and you have to act as a team player in order to get those.

So, here are some tips for working as a team courtesy of reality televison:

Air out all group ideas first. This is the hardest part of a team exercise because the dominant players will get called out for being pushy. The good leaders in the group will try to make others feel like they are heard. In the recent “Project Runway” collection challenge, the “leather & lace” team, a team made up of the show’s underdogs, aired out ideas. They had some awkward moments, but after some haggling, they came to an agreement.

Image of Jeff Probst at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards by Greg Hernandez. From Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

If you’re going to follow, then follow a smart leader. In the same “Project Runway” episode, the losing team, which was made up of winners or high finishers in past episodes, bought into the ideas of the team’s leader, Gretchen. Gretchen had one two previous challenges and had several strong workplace-bully traits. But the people on the team followed her old-lady color palette blindly because of her track record and her confidence. Unless you are sneaky enough to sabotage the bully by letting the bully make a big  mistake (as in Survivor), speak up.

If your idea lost, don’t be a brat about it. “Work of Art” featured some of the worst teamwork behavior I’ve seen in a while. The problem with teamwork is that someone is going to feel left out. A good leader will make sure that everyone feels they’ve been treated fairly, but some people will never handle being on the losing end of a teamwork battle. In a challenge in which teams had to put together an installation for public art, Miles, who, like Gretchen, had several wins under his belt, had an idea and pushed it through. Mark, another teammate, overreacted and, instead of helping out his team (and therefore helping himself and avoiding elimination), refused to help anyone on the team. When others on the team tried to reach out to him, he rejected it. Playing the part of the team rebel can be fun if you have a legitimate critique of the team’s game plan, but it can be seriously annoying if you aren’t helping anyone at all.

Next, the relationship between soup preparation and your career choices.

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