Conte, Chelsea and learning from mistakes

Antonio Conte: “We watch games… to improve

There were interesting details in a recent Times article about the approach Antonio Conte has taken to management since joining Chelsea.

One of the things he has focused on is watching and learning from videos of training sessions.

“My players were not used to the videos at first,” he said. “It was very difficult and after five or ten minutes they would drift off. But then we started to see it in the right way. We watch games not to find out who was at fault but because we can improve.”

This highlights a point that is as true of the charity sector as of football: the need to constantly be thinking about how things have gone so you can learn to become better.

But while celebrating success is straightforward, it can be hard to talk about what hasn’t gone well. It is all too easy for a sense of blame to come into it.

Take the Chelsea example – the videos can be a fantastic way for players to learn from what they’re doing wrong. But they might also, quite rightly, be evidence Conte uses when it comes to deciding who to leave out of his next team.

It’s the same with leading a communications team – your role involves both holding people to account and also building a learning culture. Both of those things are important, but they can also sometimes feel in competition with each other.

Also, while it’s very obvious how well you’ve done at football – have you scored more goals than the other team? – in the charity sector it’s usually much more subjective. Just through selecting the metrics you focus on most, it’s often easy to present defeats as wins. And when your own manager, board and supporters are eager to hear about success, it takes courage to focus on the things that didn’t go so well.

It’s also important to get the balance right. I agree with another football manager, Alex Ferguson, who wrote in his book Leading that “the old adage that you learn more from defeat than you do from victories has certainly been true from me”. But too much focus on failure can start to negatively affect the culture.

This is all difficult stuff, and I don’t have any great advice on how to do it well, other than to be aware of how difficult it is.

The best you can do is to regularly ask yourself whether your evaluation and reflection is consistently informing and changing how your team works.

If not, then it’s worth thinking about why this is.


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