"[T]here have been doping scandals, bribery scandals and officiating scandals, many of them fully emerging only years after the fact," writes Ken Belson for the New York Times. "The latest Olympic scandal—involving shuttlecocks and dumped badminton matches—was pretty much hiding in plain sight."
Wednesday, four women's doubles teams, including two teams from South Korea, a team from China, and a team from Indonesia, were disqualified for intentionally trying to lose their matches. "The eight players were found to have tried to lose their matches intentionally, apparently because they had determined that a loss would allow them to play a weaker oponent in the next round," writes Belson.
Pulling up a YouTube video of the events in question, I couldn't believe my eyes. How does something like this happen in the Olympics? Unfortunately, for Olympic badminton, it doesn't sound like it's that unusual. "Badminton officials introduced a preliminary round at the Olympics this year so that each team could play at least three times and not risk traveling thousands of miles only to be eliminated in the first match," continues Belson. "But athletes and coaches have always looked for any available advantage, including throwing a match to save energy or to face and easier opponenet in the next round."
Why am I writing about Olympic badminton? I think it teaches us something about human nature that we need to consider as we lead project teams.
It appears that a flaw in the rules gave these teams an incentive to lose. The opportunity to advance to an easier round overcame any desire to compete at their best. Are there practices in your organization that incentivize poor performance? Most of the time, it's likely not as blatant as the latest Olympics fiasco, but are there accepted project management and leadership practices that hinder performance?
What would cause a competitor who had likely prepared for years to compete at the Olympics to humiliate herself and debase their event in such a way? Unfortunately, "The notion that players who have trained for years to get to the Olympics would willingly throttle back has reopened a fierce debate in the world of badminton, which for years has bubbled with accusations about well-timed withdrawls and suspiciously sloppy play," writes Belson
"And badminton was not the only sport in which teams trotted through a preliminary-round game," he writes. "On Tuesday, in Cardiff, Wales, the Japanese women's soccer team, the 2011 World Cup champion, played to a scoreless tie against a much weaker South African side."
Apparently the tie meant the Japanese could forego the next round and advance directly to the knockout round.
I thought these were the best atheletes in the world.
Building a stong and productive project team requires two things:
- Team members who consistently perform at their best
- A methodology that doesn't incentivize poor performance at best, and doesn't get in the way at the very least
Sports teams and project teams have a lot in common. I just hope this type of behavior isn't one of those things. What are you doing to ensure that your methodology or leadership style doesn't get in the way of peak performance?