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What can organisations learn from the Tottenham vs Liverpool VAR controversy?

Poor communication leads to human error, how can we improve communication in our teams?

7th October 2023

What can organisations learn from the Tottenham vs Liverpool VAR controversy?
The biggest story in sport this Autumn isn't Europe winning the Ryder Cup or Max Verstappen winning his third consecutive F1 Drivers World Championship. Its either the VAR controversy in the English Premier League involving Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur or Taylor Swift attending NFL games. I think the former has some learnings we can apply to our organisations.

What happened?
For those unfamiliar on 30th September 2023 Tottenham Hotspur were playing Liverpool at their ground in London. These two are among the biggest clubs in world football and are competing in the Premier League. The match between the two teams was goalless, Liverpool down to 10 men after midfielder Curtis Jones received a red card - when Luis Diaz scored a goal in the 34th minute. Or did he?

Football has been adopting technology to improve decision making and to reduce 'mistakes' made by match officials. The main manifestation of this is through VAR or Video Assistant Referee. This is a team of qualified referees remotely assisting the match officials using video and replays. In the case of offside goals VAR will draw lines on the pitch to ensure the correct decision is made.

In this instance VAR made "a significant human error. The goal was incorrectly ruled offside. The match remained 0-0.

Tottenham eventually go on to win after a last minute Liverpool own goal after Liverpool had another player sent off.

How is this relevant?
In the aftermath of the game the PGMOL released a statement admitting to the error and in a disclosure of what happened released the audio from the VAR reviewing the decision.

It has been described by former professional footballer and current pundit Alan Shearer as “chaotic”.

Three individuals in the VAR room fail to communicate clearly, an initial incorrect assumption leads to the error to disallow the goal.

This is a sporting context and perhaps maybe it's not immediately obvious how we can apply this to our professional lives but poor communication leads to human error. That is true in sport, its true in our work lives too.

Do you find “chaotic” communication in your work? How about using experiential learning techniques to improve communication?

What is experiential learning?
At Experiential Learning Tools we believe that structuring specific learning experiences for people, and helping them to reflect on them to build better learning is fundamentally ‘experiential learning’. 

It is characterised by less theoretical learning or lecturing by experts, and by more practical, personal learning that comes from the individual insights from those involved in these structured experiences, activities, puzzles or games. Often these activities are focused on groups of people or teams, where leadership, team, communication, coaching and other skills can be rehearsed and developed.

Experiential learning is a dynamic educational approach where learners actively engage in activities, reflect on their experiences, and apply their newfound knowledge to real-world situations. Rooted in the philosophy that direct experience and reflection are fundamental to genuine understanding, this method stands in contrast to traditional rote or passive learning.

How can we improve communication?
Colourblind® is an experiential learning activity that was developed by RSVP Design over 25 years ago and has proven time and time again to help teams improve their communication skills. It was originally designed to help those doing a very critical verbal communications role - Air Traffic Controllers! 

Colourblind can unlock the power of effective communication and team development. The digital version of the original physical experiential learning activity was designed to highlight and address the challenges of imprecise language and communication in virtual teams and is available exclusively on Experiential Learning Tools. It's not just a game; it's a transformative experience that hones active listening and verbal problem-solving skills in a group setting. Success hinges on a range of skills: effective listening, precise questioning, adept group management, clear summarisation, and consistent feedback for understanding.

Running Colourblind in your organisation can lead to the following outcomes:

  • Enhanced Communication: Teams walk away with a heightened awareness of their communication strengths and areas for improvement. They learn the value of precision in language and the pitfalls of assumptions.
  • Strengthened Team Dynamics: By working together to solve the game's challenges, teams develop a deeper understanding of each member's working style, leading to improved collaboration in real-world projects.
  • Skill Development: Participants hone essential skills such as active listening, information management, and effective questioning, all of which are transferable to their daily tasks.
  • Increased Engagement: The interactive nature of Colourblind® ensures participants are engaged and invested, leading to better retention & application of the lessons learned.

In the case of VAR the individuals are 'remote'. The match officials are clearly in attendance at the game of football and the VAR officials are offsite providing assistance. Communication amongst both these teams and across these teams appears to have failed in the Tottenham vs Liverpool game. Could experiential learning have prevented the error? Who can say, but employing structured learning to improve team communication (with an activity like Colourblind®) has been proven over a number of years to help individuals and teams communicate better. By communicating better we can mitigate the risk of bad communication leading to errors.

If you feel bad communication is causing "significant human error" in your organisation then why not give Colourblind® a go? You can get instant access by subscribing to Experiential Learning Tools today.

Michael Hayes @experientialLT

Head of Product at Experiential Learning Tools

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