What The Apprentice teaches us about teamwork

It’s that time of the year again when we sit down to watch The Apprentice and marvel at how dysfunctional a team of ‘business people’ can really be. Whether or not you’re a fan, you’ll no doubt be aware that the early stages of the show involve the contestants forming teams to compete against each other in a weekly task. It’s all about teamwork, as the winning team makes it through to the next week, and someone from the other team always gets fired.

Fortunately, teamwork isn’t like that in real life. But the show does throw up some interesting theories on team dynamics. So how do you build a strong, winning, high performing team in real life?

Purpose and goals

Firstly, you need to define what the team’s purpose or goal is. It might be anything from ‘building the best widgets’, to ‘processing the business’s inbound invoices efficiently and on time’, but if the members of the team don’t know, or agree, on their purpose, they can’t work together to achieve that common goal. So discuss it with the team, and make sure everyone is aligned and understands.


Secondly, every team needs a good leader. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a person with the title of ‘manager’ in their job description. The leader needs to be inspiring and motivating for their team, be able to take responsibility and lead by example, rather than by power alone. If the team don’t respect the leader, the project is doomed to failure, (as countless episodes of The Apprentice have proven).

Action plan

Next, the team needs to have an action plan. Each member of the team needs to know what their role is, and how that sits within the framework of the team, to deliver the team’s objectives. Equally, they all need to know what each other’s roles are too, in order to be able to leverage each other’s strengths, compensate for others’ weaker points, and work co-operatively to get the job done. In some organisations this might mean having a formal team structure in place, with job descriptions aligned to team function, but in other organisations it can be much more fluid and flexible.

Whether your business is more tightly controlled or more fluid on this aspect matters much less than ensuring that the team members are clear on who does what – and in everyone having a genuine role to play. If they’re not clear on this, they can’t deliver the project to the best of their ability and will feel unfulfilled in their career.

Allowing mistakes

Importantly, all high performing teams need to have permission and space to take risks and potentially make mistakes. This comes directly from the leader and is important to allow creativity and growth. Fear of risk-taking leads to playing it safe, and stifles creativity. An inspirational leader supports their team in taking reasonable risks. When mistakes happen, this leader creates a supportive environment to examine them without a culture of blame, so the team can learn and move on.  A strong team needs to have constructive communication channels, allowing mistakes to be discussed, not covered up or ignored.

Celebrate teamwork success

And finally, while mistakes must be allowed and discussed, it’s equally important that successes must be visibly celebrated across the whole team. It might involve a big team night out, or it could be as simple as acknowledging a strong performance in a team meeting and taking a moment to thank everyone. Whichever type of celebration works best for your team, never let a significant achievement pass by without taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate it. This shows the team, as individuals, that their work is valued and appreciated, and it also strengthens teambuilding as the team share a moment to reflect on their shared success.

As always, we’ll be watching The Apprentice with interest to see which of the contestants really understand how to create – and be part of – a high performing team, and which are doomed to be Fired!


Artemis Clarke is a specialist financial recruitment agency. We work with SMEs to find the right candidates for your finance team’s needs. Contact us for more information.

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