August 4, 2011

Make the desire to win bigger than the fear of losing

I was recently made aware of some research about penalties in football (soccer, for any US readers). How can this be relevant in project management? Maybe it is a stretch, but I think it can learn us a thing about motivation. Let's see.

I cannot find the original Norwegian source now, but the basic content was this: When the last penalty is taken in a football penalty shootout, the likelihood of scoring is almost twice[1] if your team will win if you score than if your team will lose if you miss[2].

Even though generalizations from non-related fields is risky and I am a fan of brutal honesty[3], I will take my chance on this one: This can learn us to make the desire to win bigger than the fear of losing. If your project team feels scoring that goal (be it completing their component, polishing that presentation, or something else) will win the game, it is better than if they fear their mistake will drag the entire project to a failure.

So making each team member feel that their contribution is essential, but creating an environment where everyone is sure someone else will pick up the ball (!) if he fails his current task, sounds like the winning formula. Maybe not rocket science (it is football science, after all!), but a good reminder?

Now go on and win your game.

[1] - Again I didn't manage to find the original numbers, but they were something like 40 % and 70 % likelihood of scoring. Will update this blogpost if someone pings me with a link to data or original article. The source is as credible as it gets in Norwegian mass media, at least (A-magasinet from Aftenposten) - and it seemed to reference valid research.

[2] - I.e. the statistics were for the tenth penalty, and equal score before the penalty will give the first situation and the team not having the shooter being one goal up would be the second.

[3] - For the record I am also a fan of a lot of praise. But being direct about the negative also gives credibility to the praise. Maybe a separate blog post on this later!