The Apprentice

I don’t watch much TV, but the “Big Bang Theory” and “The Apprentice” are my two must see’s each week (and, as a treat, I do stay up and watch the first half of Question Time on a Thursday night. How sad is that?!)

If you haven’t yet watched this week’s Apprentice then don’t. A more cringe worthy piece of viewing I haven’t seen in a long time. I couldn’t watch, I had to scuttle off to the kitchen and make myself some toast.

This week, the future captains of industry had to put on corporate ‘away-days’ – team-building, bonding, improving communication skills – all that sort of thing. It was painful to watch – at one point one ‘exec’ asking “what was the point of that” as he finished the cup-cake decorating activity. It was an embarrassing collection of badly planned and poorly executed tasks, mixed in with a liberal dose of meaningless management speak:

“Success in work, success in yourself is just success in life”

Its easy to knock these wannabees – but what would I have done in their place? Well, whilst making  my toast, I asked myself that question and soon realised that running a corporate away day was not much different from teaching and I would use a couple of tasks I’ve used in my classroom – great for developing problem solving skills, but also for developing communication skills mainly because, at the start, everyone just shouts out their own ideas and nobody listens. But to succeed, the teams need to collaborate and listen to each (and do a little maths along the way.)

The first task I would have  used is a magic squares challenge.

Arrange nine chairs in a three by three grid. Pick nine people to take part and get them to write one of the numbers from 1 to 9 on a piece of paper and stick it onto them. (OK – if I were doing this with a bunch of ‘execs’ I’d have made some fancy numbered bibs, but for the classroom A4 paper will suffice) Get them to sit on the nine chairs in order from one to nine. Then explain that the task is to organise themselves so that each horizontal, vertical and diagonal row adds up to the same total and tell them to start. Stand back and watch! If you’ve got more  than nine (and, if your a teacher and not a corporate trainer, you’re going to have more than nine!) then set up another set of nine chairs and turn it into a competition. I often do this in September – its fascinating to watch and gives a good indication of who’s loud, who listens, who thinks, who follows.

Another task would be the ‘Frogs Investigation’ – I’m sure you all know this one: you have seven lily pads, 3 green frogs on one side, 3 brown frogs on the other side and they have to swap places. Frogs can only move by sliding onto an empty adjacent lily pad or hoping over one frog onto an empty lily pad. Use chairs for lily pads and get volunteers to be the frogs – I find it easier to pick girls to be one type of frog, boys to be the other – and set them off. Again, as well as the problem solving needed for this task, it also draws out communication skills and team work and is probably as valid and as useful in the corporate training arena as it is in the maths classroom on a gloomy February afternoon.

And there’s loads of other tasks and investigations that we ‘do’ in maths that would be perfect for developing business skills – Sir Alan, are you hiring? I’ve got a great idea for a new corporate training venture …


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