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Amazing Race - Lessons Learned


The CBS TV reality show Amazing Race has many lessons that can be learned from its contestants. The two biggest are communications and teamwork.

If you are not familiar with the show, teams of two people compete against each other in a "race around the world". In each week's episode, they must complete a number of tasks faster than the other teams. The last team to complete the tasks usually is eliminated until a winner emerges at the end.

The other night, two teams were very close at the end, literally side by side, as they raced in taxis to the check point. One taxi driver made a wrong turn and that team ended up losing and being sent home. It struck how many times over the years we've seen the outcome influenced by, if not determined by, events over which the contestants have little or no control. In many cases it's the taxi drivers. Sometimes it is a missed connection to a bus or train, etc. It made me think about how often seemingly random external events impact our success or failure at work. And it made me think about the fact that while we may not be able to control external events, we can influence them and improve our chances for success - just as the Amazing Race contestants can.


In this particular episode, the team lost because their taxi driver made a wrong turn at the end. But could they have done anything differently that could have influenced the outcome? Part of the problem was that one member of the team was constantly yelling at the taxi driver in English, which was not his native language and not one that he may have known more than a few words. Mostly she screamed, "Faster". Several times during the show, the team got into a taxi, showed the driver a piece of paper with a destination written on it (again in English) and asked him if he knew where it was. The driver replied "Yes", probably one of a very few English words he knew. And the team commenced yelling "faster" at him.

Their outcome probably would have been different if they had simply taken a few moments longer at the beginning of the trip to slow down and be sure the driver actually knew where he was going to take them. Also, the driver could have been encouraged to drive faster by encouraging him rather than yelling at him.

It's the same in business. Before rushing into something new, pause briefly to make sure everyone on the team clearly understands the goal. This is especially important when part of the team is from a different culture or speaks a different language. A sense of urgency is appropriate, but it does not have to be a headlong rush into everything.


A great deal of luck influences the outcome of the Amazing Race episodes, just like in life, but luck favors the teams that are better prepared. Winning teams have several aspects in common. The teams are made up of people with different and complementary skills. Some strength is needed, some smarts. Sometimes athletic ability is paramount and other times an artistic ability to recognize patterns or colors can make the difference. The teams that regularly do better are those that make use of the skills of both team members.

I vividly remember one father-daughter team. The father belittled the daughter constantly and dismissed all of her suggestions. Several times they were almost eliminated and would have been except for their language skills. Finally, the daughter realized they couldn't win if they continued and she challenged her father. Grudgingly he agreed to act more as a team member than a parent and listen to her input. They didn't win in the end, but they did build a stronger bond.

It's often that way in business too. Many mangers feel parental toward their teams. They dictate how everything will be done. They don't ask for or listen to input from their team members who are doing the work. Consequently, their results are much less than they could have been.

Bottom Line

In business or in life, good communications skill and effective teamwork are essential components of success. Take the time to get everyone moving together in the same direction and use input from the entire team to determine the best way to get there.

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