Not long ago, I was at the home opener of the local high school football team. Our guys had a dismal recent history — they’ve won only three games in the past two years. But with a new coach and new attitude, these young men had won their first road game in convincing fashion, so expectations were high.
The rival from the next town over would be a legitimate test, and our team was answering the call. We were ahead by six at the beginning of the fourth quarter and driving for another touchdown from our opponent’s 11-yard line.
Then it happened — a pass play across the middle. A defensive back clearly ran into our receiver before the ball got there. The ball deflected off our receiver’s hands to be caught by another defender. In the mere seconds it took the official to throw his yellow penalty flag, we held our breath. When the dust settled, we were high-fiving each other because we know the penalty would put the ball on our rival’s goal line.
The referees huddled before the head referee picked up the flag and waved it over his head — an action that meant “no penalty.” Worse than that, the other team was awarded an interception that gave them possession of the ball, thus ending our scoring drive. The home town crowd was enraged. I heard “What are you doing?” and “Who’s paying you off, ref?” and other utterances of disbelief for several minutes. The opposing team eventually scored and our guys lost by one point.
We’ve all experienced disappointments like this. When people don’t know what’s going on, they tend to think in negative terms. In the situation that night on the football field, it seemed as though the officiating team was biased. For the record, I’ll state that 99.9% of amateur and professional officials in every sport aren’t biased. But our emotions and the circumstances often make us think the worst.
When game films were scrutinized the next day, it was obvious that a defensive lineman had actually tipped the ball. That meant, by definition, a defensive pass interference penalty couldn’t be called and the officials had made the right call. Most high school football games don’t have big screen instant replay, nor do they have microphones on the officials as is done in major college and professional football. Because of this, the official’s reasoning and decisions weren’t readily available to the fans.
In the workplace, supervisors and managers often don’t take the time to educate their staffs and team members on the full scope and realities of what they’re up against. In the absence of information and understanding, people tend to believe the worst. It’s human nature. It’s like the fans that are too far away to see what the referee sees.
Some team members are ultimate fans and want to know as much as possible. Others are like spouses of football fans who don’t follow the games, but can appreciate the scope and complexity of the rules. You see, it’s not just about making everyone into wannabe supervisors; it’s about giving them access to the big picture. Transparency and inclusiveness leads to building and sustaining trust.
Decisions don’t always make sense if you don’t know the whole picture. Had there been slo-mo instant replay on the Jumbo-Tron that night on the gridiron, or had the referee simply signaled that the ball had been tipped, it might have avoided a lot of inappropriate thoughts about the officiating team’s integrity (and heritage).
In both good and difficult economic times, it might become the path of least resistance for managers and supervisors to avoid interacting with employees who might ask difficult questions. What tends to happen is that the workforce spends more time thinking about what they don’t know about what’s going on, and less time thinking about doing their jobs in the safest and best way possible. Interact with your team; give them access to the full picture.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and (321) 773-3356.