Which is better : man marking or zonal defence ?

Which would you prefer in your organisation: a management structure where – when something goes wrong – you know whose fault it is?

Or a management structure where it’s less clear whose fault it is when things go wrong, but where there is a greater chance of success?

In other words, would you give up a little accountability if it meant a chance of more success?

Accountability is a good thing right?  You only have to look at the Newsnight mess to understand the need for clear and structured accountability.  The Telegraph says “An official report into the programme, by the BBC’s Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie, found there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for “final editorial sign-off” on the story which falsely linked Lord McAlpine to a paedophile ring.”

We like to know what the clear areas of responsibility are in organisations and we like to be able to point the finger of blame at the perpetrators of mistakes.  We like to do it, but it is not the way to solve the problems which may well be endemic or cultural instead (with the exception of problems caused by new rogue players).

This is like the preference for man marking in English football teams versus zonal defence.  Man marking is simpler to control.  If opposing player X scores a goal then it is team player Y’s fault and they must do everything and anything to stop it happening.

What could possibly go wrong with that? What goes wrong is that teams playing that system still routinely give away corners.  When they do concede a corner then every player who wasn’t responsible for man marking the scorer from the opposing team breathes a sigh of relief that it wasn’t their fault.  You can sometimes see them pointing the finger at the defender who screwed up.  This is no way to deliver a winning team spirit.

Zonal defence requires more effort to work as a team and it requires anticipation.  It is not the most simple way to instruct people.  It requires skill and perspective and brave leadership.  But without collective responsibility and cultural alignment against a purposeful goal then the team will lose, the match, the cup, the season and eventual be relegated to a lesser league.

Organisations that wish to be world class need to bear in mind that pointing the finger is the least best way to drive true winning accountability.

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