Fouls & Misconduct

I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup, and it’s got me thinking, “What if each of us had red and yellow cards in our back pocket and the authority to pull them out for “transgressing acceptable laws of the game” at work?”

Colleague throws you under the bus in a project review? That’s a yellow card, caution for a misdemeanor.

Sandbagging? Half-truths? Yellow.


Is the foul “reckless or carried out with excessive force?” Emotional attacks, blaming, belittling behavior will elicit a red card.

Everyone is expected to play hard, to go all in, to have the physicality and agility to hold their own. It’s gonna get scrappy and scruffy sometimes, but if an “offender commits himself to an action that injures or will injure opponent” you get benched. I like those rules.

I consulted FIFA’s rule book to understand fouls and misconduct, which lays it out pretty well. (Maybe I’ll just print and make copies for my friends in HR.) You cannot kick, trip, jump at, charge, strike, or push an opponent. Now, I’m not sure I’ve seen employees kick each other, but tripping (creating an obstacle), jumping at (surprising/catching off guard), charging and striking (with words and gestures), and pushing around a table in the War Room happens all too often.

Holding, spitting, and tackling will earn a direct kick on the pitch. What are the equivalent disrespectful and overly aggressive offenses at the office? Are there penalties associated?

I especially like FIFAs language around the spirit of these actions because it takes into account not just the what but also the how. Was the violation careless, reckless, or with excessive force? This is a judgement call. It also weighs context. Refs, and leaders, are expected to evaluate behavior before dispensing consequences. Here the terms are defined:

“Careless” – A player has shown lack of attention or consideration or acted without precaution. (No further disciplinary sanction needed in soccer – but I’ll add that a wise boss will call out and mentor employees with this habit).

“Reckless” – A player acted with complete disregard of danger or consequences for opponent (Player shall be cautioned with a yellow card. What does a caution look like at work? What sanctions exist that say, “Heads up buddy, this ain’t gonna fly around here?”)

“Using excessive force” – A player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring an opponent (Red card – player kicked off the field. Bad behavior does not get called out or reprimanded the way I think it should in too many places of employment)

Maybe I’ll post this in the break rooms I visit:

cautionable offenses

As far as red card violations go, Lori’s Playbook would allow for regular carding of any and all Passive Aggressive Behavior, the number one cause of dysfunction I see in organizations. And drawing directly from FIFA’s “Sending Off Offences,” red cards for any player that

uses offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.

I don’t care if you’re the CEO or if you’ve got Steve Job’s genius (you probably don’t) – berating and bullying behavior is intolerable at work (or anywhere else).

This World Cup showed Suarez biting his Italian opponent. Biting?! Competition can bring out our best, and our worst.

What violations have become the norm in your office? How is unsporting behavior carded (or ignored)?


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