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Biting Your Way to Greatness – Does It Work?

Like millions of others, I watched Louis Suarez bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during a 2014 World Cup match. I, for one, was convinced he did try to take a chunk out of Chiellini’s shoulder and that he should have been disciplined for doing so. The purpose and rules of football clearly state that you and your team should try to annihilate the opposing team, using a ball, not your incisors.

This got me thinking… Is it ever appropriate that a member of a team resorts to ‘rogue’ behaviour, even if the team benefits from that behaviour? All teams have members who sit somewhere on the spectrum of Ultimate Team Player to Lone Wolf. All teams have members whose behaviour at times make us wince. What defines unacceptable behaviour? What if that behaviour enables the team?

Teams need clear rules

It comes down to the rules of the game. Some teams (anti-terrorist SWAT units, for example) are required to to act with a high degree of autonomy in a fluid and quickly changing situation. Even here, though, members of the unit, while highly trained and intelligent, have to keep the aim of the mission and the the overall rules of engagement in mind as they operate. While members are chosen for traits such as self-reliance and independence, they are expected to abide by Standard Operating Procedures. Checks and balances exist to encourage sufficient independent decision making within a clear framework that is constantly reinforced through rigorous training.

In business, biting is bad. And yet, in some teams (think sales, for example) it seems inevitable at times. The inducement of individual compensation for individual effort is often the standard and this drives individual behaviour accordingly. Is this actually a team, where cooperation is rewarded? If so, the team leader has to create the conditions where team members can balance individual performance with team based initiatives (cross-selling of services, team ‘ownership’ of the client relationship, for example). Once again, the rules of the game have to be clear and reinforced.

FIFA made a call on Suarez’s fate – he missed the next nine games. FIFA was quoted as saying: “Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at the World Cup, where the eyes of millions of people are on the stars in the field.” 

This begs the question: If the eyes of millions were not on the game, would Suarez’s action have been any more acceptable? The credibility of football and teamwork were on the line. If biting is acceptable, then any player may be the next one bitten.

Is there “biting” on your team? Take a stand. Deal with it.

If you lead a team or are on a team where there is “biting” behaviour and you’d like some guidance on how to deal with it, please contact us via phone or email. We’ve got experience with this type of team dynamic and can work with you to get the situation resolved.


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