A TV transmission from the Australian Open in Melbourne illustrates an important issue for effective team work, as two commentators exhibit group think and mutually reinforcing mind sets
The match took place in round three [January 18th 2014] and involved Scotland’s Andy Murray and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. UK viewers were following the fortunes of the Wimbledon champion Murray who had recently returned from back surgery.
Even before the match started, the two commentators from UK Eurosport appeared preoccupied by the possibility that Murray would be feeling the after effects of the injury. I decided to keep notes to see whether their suspicions would turn out to be justified.
Game one. Murray drops serve and touches his leg as if in pain. Murray has tended to do this throughout his career. However it induces an outburst of commentator anxiety 0-1
Game two: more injury signs detected. Commentators even more anxious. Murray breaks back. Just realized that I must explain what I mean. Murray has not broken his back, but equalizes by breaking serve. 1-1
Game three. Injury talk continues to dominate, although Murray wins serve 2-1
Game four. Easy Lopez hold. Murray makes errors each accompanied by explanations of
poor execution because of injury. 2-2
Game five. Mix of poor and good Murray Shots. Crowd v quiet. A stretch for a ball at the net looks laboured and
suggests commentators may be right. Murray looks out of sorts. Wins but Looks up at coach a lot during change over. 3-2
Game six. Commentators distracted by news of other matches. Both players up game. Lopez holds serve. Slightly less injury talk. 3-3
Game seven. I’d say it is a typical scratchy Murray match when he is not quite on song. Holds serve. 4-3
Game eight. Quick win for Lopez. 4-4
Game nine. Murray serve also powerful. 5-4. Commentators have calmed down slightly.
Game ten. Slightly patcher. Murray return length high quality persists. Lopez wins. 5-5
Game eleven. Murray comfortable at 40 love and wins. I think tiebreak coming up 6-5.
At changeover so does commentary theme.
Game twelve. Tight points. Murray stretch at net works well. Lopez errs to set point but then aces. Survives. 6-6
Tie break. No sign of back problem says commentator. Murray ups game. Wins. “Looks as if he’s stopped [his] preoccupation with his back”. Think it’s not Murray with the preoccupation7-6
The commentators are again agreeing totally. But their shared perception has now shifted. After an early service break by Murray they agree this match is now be one-sided. I began to develop a theory of team mind-set. Murray wins easily. 6-4
Even easier for Murray who extends his record of wins over Lopez to eight. 6-2
Murray in his post-match interview denied he had problems beyond what was to be expected after recent surgery. The commentators during the match were united in a different mindset. This was eventually dispelled. Their initial narrow focus ignored important information about court conditions, and temperature, players’ head on head records, even time of day for European viewers.
I felt that they needed to make more effort to be aware of the assumption that was dominated their thinking. This is common enough. A newer thought occurred to me. Maybe the two commentators were in a comfort zone reinforced by mutual agreement on their shared ‘map’ or basic assumption. This is a possibility for explaining the persistence of beliefs in face of contrary evidence.
If so, we have a nice example of the importance of creative and constructive challenge for effective group work. Otherwise groupthink will become increasingly inhibiting.