Two Leadership Fundamentals Video Refereeing can teach Leaders about Remote Decision Making

Don’t be like England

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The English Premier League, a Football (Soccer) competition in England and Wales, has been trialling a version of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) that has been met with widespread criticism. It, unlike most of the other implementations, defers key decision making to a remote referee.

This does not occur in the NFL, NBA and most of the professional Football/Soccer leagues. In those implementations, the officiating referee’s utilise monitors in the arena to review the decisions and action.

I can’t help but note the similarities between the VAR implementation in England, and the newly distributed and locally-remote teams finding their way with video and decision making.

During a transition to remote work, there are times when the senior ‘leaders’ may want all decisions sent back to them. This is the wrong tact, instead, it is the time for pushing decisions making to the ‘on-the-field’ leaders.

They have the best information, the soundest understanding of the environment and the context for the decision. They are best placed.

So — if you are a remote leader, don’t be like England. Convince your staff with the best awareness to make the decisions.

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Heat of the moment

If you have watched the NBA basketball, you would have seen that occasionally there is a requirement to review the on-court decisions. The Coaches from each team are even given some challenges for having decisions they disagree with reviewed during the game.

If this is required, the on-court referees huddle around a court-side monitor and review all available video footage to make the decision. It may take them several minutes to review all of the game tape available, but collectively, the referees in charge of the game make the decision on how to progress.

In England during the matches, the on-field referee may signal a review is required — or it may happen oblivious to all in the stadium. A different referee in a video room in London, sometimes over a 1000 miles away from the game, will review the footage and make a decision.

The difference between these two methods of reviewing contentious in-game moments is the proximity of the decision-maker to the game participants — and the crowd.

The motivation for doing this is to divorce the heat of the moment from the decision. There is no pervasive chants from the crowd to deal with, no heavy breathing from running to the monitors, no coaches and players circling around.

They believe they will get a better decision by removing the decision-maker from this environment.

They are wrong.

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Why they are wrong — and why Leaders should care

There are two main arguments for this type of review and decision making. Each of them have merit on the surface, but there is something that we can learn from these reasons in this tumultuous time about leadership and decision making.

The game can continue

There is a belief that it is better to keep moving forward, the on-field referee can continue to officiate the game in front of them. But in the background, the appropriate checks are made, and a revised decision if necessary is then communicated.

In the stadium, there will sometimes be an announcement of the review via the in-ground screens, sometimes not.

There have been some unintended consequences;

  1. The crowd don’t know what is happening. They are most of the time confused about what is happening during the review. There is no in-stadium picture for them to see what is under review. They are then left confused when the game is stopped, or a goal is disallowed. They rely on social media to find out what is happening. The in-game moments have been ruined for them.
  2. The players can continue to play because the on-field official does not stop the game, instead, they delegate the decision to the video referee. This creates opportunities for players to be injured (at the worst) or fatigued (at best) in a period of play that could be written off (it is true that some are not) due to the decision.
  3. It’s used as a crutch by the on-field officials. They choose not to make a ‘hard’ decision knowing that there is someone else watching for the

This is bad for the game, and could perhaps be fixed, but it is also bad for Leaders. Especially those in a distributed work environment.

Leaders often have additional information that is not available to the rest of the team. Leaders need to realise this and make sure that all available information is communicated to the team when making decisions. They should think out loud. The team needs to know what is going on. David Marquet describes the importance of clarity within teams, ‘if a team had clarity on what it needs to do, and the competence to do it, the leader does not need to do anything’.

A decision that is delayed is also bad for a Leaders team. The team may be making progress on a newly redundant issue. Nothing is more demoralising than being told your hard work was unnecessary. A 2014 PwC study identified that amongst CEO’s those that made quick decisions were more effective than those that made slower more-correct decisions.

If you are having all decisions elevated to the Leader, the team has no psychological ownership of the outcome. Sometimes the team have to make hard decisions for themselves.

The right decision is made

There are specific instances when the use of some additional technology and time to review it have led to a more ‘correct’ decision. But, even then there has been widespread disagreement that the ‘right’ decision is made — even if it was correct.

Offside and handball decisions are one such incident.

Even if technology does hint that there could be a different decision, it normally comes with delays and is still often a decision made on individual interpretation. One that still could be left to the referee closest to the game.

The same thing happens in teams. There are certain decisions where the information and the context should be elevated to a decision making authority, but they are few.

Most of the time the decision making authority should be pushed down to the information. That is, the person with the most information, context and environmental understanding should be making the decision. If this happens, the ‘right’ decision is most often made — not always a time-delayed emotionless ‘correct’ decision.

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Leadership with a distributed or remote team

So, what can a leader working with a team that is distributed or recently moved to a locally-remote structure? There are two fundamental key things to remember.

They need to realise that it is now, more than ever that the teams need to be able to progress things without continuous decision interaction from Leadership. The military call this centralised command, decentralised control.

They need to realise that their role is to provide clarity to the things moving outside their team, and the visibility of the work of other teams in their organisation. Understanding intent is the foundation of empowerment.

Video-decision making has ruined the English Premier League, don’t let it ruin your team.

I am a writer with a passion for leadership, growth and personal development. I try and create a spark, a little idea that nests inside and kindles your aspirations. Reach me at

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