As a proud Englishman, I never thought I would find myself saying this, but like many I was pretty gutted to see Scotland lose a nail biting Rugby World Cup quarter final to Australia last Sunday.

Scotland lost to a last minute penalty, which, with the benefit of several slow motion replays from a number of different angles, appears to have been as the result of an incorrect conclusion by the referee, Craig Joubert.

Even by the standards or referees, Mr. Joubert has since had fairly considerable abuse piled onto him on social media, in particular the armchair pundits of Twitter, and even World Rugby has said he was “wrong” to award the penalty.

If the Twitter critics take their Twitter attitudes into the workplace I am not sure I would like to be working alongside or for many of them.

The first howls of disapproval for Mr. Joubert were around use of the TMO (video referee).   Why when he had used it repeatedly during the match hadn’t he used it?   Well as the World Rugby rules stand he could not (under World Rugby rules the TMO can only be called to rule on foul play or whether tries or kicks at goal are legitimate).    So Mr. Joubert got it totally right in not using the TMO.  Despite organisations and governments frequently thinking they can bend the rules on the fly it rarely works out for the best – and in this case would have left the Australians feeling equally vexed, possible appeals and general chaos.

Then comes the actual decision itself.  Yes it was not the right decision, with the benefit of replays and slow motion.  It took the 3 pundits in the studio 5 replays to reach a 2:1 decision that it was not a penalty to Australia.    Joubert had to make a decision on what he saw in a split second.  No benefit of a replay.  In fact, the view was so crowded none of us actually knows what he could and could not see.   Judging whether someone made a good or bad call, in sport or in business, is about whether they made a rational decision in the light of the information they had – not whether they made the right decision determined after the event.  Back people on the latter and you don’t deserve a team to manage.  (Incidentally World Rugby itself set up the rules.  World Rugby itself put Joubert in a position where he was not able to access the technology available.   Too often in organisations we see good individuals hung out to dry for failures in the systems around them.  Maybe we could learn more and advance more from looking at the underlying system, and avoiding mistakes in that next time.

Finally, assuming that Joubert was wrong, even on the information he possessed, you have to ask a few questions.  Is this a systematic pattern, can he learn from the “mistake”, will he emerge a better and stronger referee.    From all I have seen and read, Joubert has been one of the best referees in the game and even if there was an error it would be a shame if he was not afforded the opportunity to learn from it.  (That by the way is very different from saying if he is off his game every week that does not matter.)

As so often sport has given us an opportunity to look much wider at our own approach and those in our organisations.  It would be great if we could all learn a little from this, rather than nursing for too long a sense of sorrow that a deserving Scotland will not grace the field in Sunday’ World Cup semi-final.

As for whether Mr. Joubert’s dash for the tunnel at the end was the result of needing to spend a penny – that will have to wait for another blog.

Photo: gepiblu (Flickr: rugby world cup 2007) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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