Reality TVs Teambuilding How-NOT-To

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Boyd Coddington

It’s my guilty pleasure that some reality TV shows draw me like a moth to a flame. One of my favorites is Discovery Channel’s “American Hot Rod”. The show ostensibly chronicles Boyd Coddington and his team while they build world-class custom cars. For anyone who knows much about cars (and I speak as a reformed addict), Boyd’s name is well known. He was one of the originators of the over-the-top custom car back in the late seventies, and is an icon in the field. But you don’t have to even care about cars to gain huge insights into team building and management from this show.

I’m sure the creators of the show (including the reknowned Thom Beers who discovered Jesse James) went into it expecting simply a spin off from the world of custom motorcycles that made them, Jesse, Monster Garage, and other shows like it huge hits. These shows are among the most profitable for DSC.

But they got much more than they bargained for with American Hot Rod. Boyd and crew are perhaps the most disfunctional team since the Bundys of “Married with Children”. The show features such teambuilding highlights as:

  • A CEO (Boyd) who is gifted, revered, an industry icon, and a teddy bear, but who also micro-manages, sets ridiculous schedules with no input from below, ignores criticism, changes his mind depending on who he last spoke to, won’t admit when he’s wrong, and thinks everyone with a differing opinion “has a problem”.
  • A line manager (Duane) who is a worse micro-manager, has little patience for the challenge of managing his team, treats everyone like dirt, curses like a sailor, blames everyone but himself for the problems, and lets Boyd walk all over him.
  • Projects that routinely are underscheduled by half, causing the team to have to work 18 hour days seven days a week on a routine basis.
  • Line employee turnover that is terrible, with the team going from 20 to 5 in the most recent episodes — with people leaving for lousy reasons, and leaving to no other job (a clear sign of major cultural issues).
  • A business model that clearly is bankrupt — the only new customers are Boyd’s old friends, and the shop is always half-full.
“Can I think of five better ways to have handled that?”

I watch on a weekly basis as these factors collide in fantastic displays. Of course, they always finish the car, and of course the team always is smiling on conclusion, but the show couldn’t be a better teambuilding course without resorting to PowerPoint slides. I find myself pausing the Tivo about every five minutes: “hmmm, let’s see, can I think of five better ways to have handled that?” Usually the answer is “yes.”

I watched an episode from a week or two ago last night, and I caught myself screaming at the TV. The team lost two members, one who actually called Boyd and Duane on their ridiculous behavior, and another long-time, well-respected member left “to freelance”. Boyd’s response to the former was “he really must have some problems” and to the latter it was “well, he had made up his mind”. And to top it off, Boyd had to shut down his wheel business due to poor sales. I was in pain, as I always am when I watch teams disintegrate due to lousy managment. I wanted to call him up and offer my services for free… but I guess I’ll wait for him to find me.

Anyway, if you are looking for a guilty pleasure, and some killer lessons on how NOT to run a team, catch Discovery Channel’s “American Hot Rod”.