FROM the ‘gentlemen’s game of cricket’ to the turbulent field of foreign affairs, our teams are always found wanting. It may be time to wonder why! Why is it, for instance, that despite all the plus points that a benevolent nature has endowed us with we continue to create a mess all around us? Why cannot we put our own act together and behave like a mature and responsible entity for once? Surely, it is not in our genes, or is it?
In one of his well-known writings, the inimitable Charles Lamb divided mankind into two neat little categories – Borrowers and Lenders. All human beings, opined Lamb, fall into either of these categories. One is either a borrower or a lender. One is not in a position to change one’s denomination. A person, thus, is saddled with certain characteristics that set him, or her, aside into either of these two categories. In today’s scientific jargon, your DNA decides which of these categories you fall into and you have no choice in the matter.
Carrying the thesis of Charles Lamb a bit forward, one would recognise several other characteristics that could help categorise people into distinct and mutually exclusive groups. It merely requires a bit of looking into. Being introspective for a bit, two categories – of, say, ‘team players’ and ‘solos’ – come readily to mind. Our national experience exhibits outstanding examples of several – otherwise brilliant – individuals endeavoring to play solo in what is, in effect, a team game.
Team players fit in neatly into what may be termed as a ‘team outfit’. They are, so to speak, like cogs in a wheel. They help in the locomotion as essential ingredients and yet do not presume to hog all the credit for it. Without the cog the machinery would come to a standstill, yet the cog cannot presume to be the hub of the whole juggernaut. The team player, thus, is one part of the whole. He or she makes no attempt to move out at a tangent; while at the same time ensuring that his or her activities strictly conform to the overall pattern of the team plan. When the objective is achieved, the team player shares the credit equally with the other members of the team. There are no ‘stars’ in a team performance. They are all equal members of the team, even though some members may be more equal than others, as George Orwell would say.
Solos, on the other extreme, are those who prefer to operate alone. Most are usually brilliant people who can not only hold their own against most competition but also have the ability to forge ahead. They are fiercely competitive and jealously guard their inherent qualities. Their main weakness lies in their inherent inability to dovetail their activity with that of their collaborators. More often than not, they progress way ahead of their colleagues thereby creating such distortions in the organisation as are difficult to reconcile.
The foregoing relates mainly to the brilliant solos. There is also another class of solos who are lethargic and have a lackadaisical attitude towards the organisation. Rather than forge ahead, this sort normally lags behind, dragging the whole work plan down with them. These solos are total misfits and work to the detriment of both their colleagues as well as the organisation as a whole. But this is not the sort we shall be referring to in this narrative.
The question that presents itself, begging for an answer, is this: who is better for the organisation, an above-average team player or a brilliant solo? This is by no means an easy question to answer, since a lot of divers variables come into play – variables that are not susceptible to a precise evaluation. In expressing a definite opinion, one would be running the risk of jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. One would hardly relish such a course of action. A player playing solo in a team game, nonetheless, would stick out like a sore thumb.
Looking at the broader picture, one can safely say that an organisation would function more smoothly and with greater efficiency if it enjoys the services of more team players than solos. A few solos, however brilliant, may possibly fit into specialist slots but in the overall effort they would be no better than square pegs in round holes. All in all, it is the team players that carry the assignment forward. A surfeit of solos can only lead to a breakdown of the whole organisational structure through lack of coordination. Applying the aforementioned thesis to the Land of the Pure model, particularly after the rather haphazard introduction of experts and consultants in the governmental machinery over the past few years, experience shows that these experts and/or consultants never become efficient members of the team.
One has no desire to detract from the brilliant solo performances of some of these individuals. In the long run, though, it is invariably teams that come out the winners. Whatever the field of endeavour, no individual, whatever his or her merit, can win a battle single-handed. In any organisational structure, what is needed for success is a well-knit team composed of loyal and trusted persons. Enterprising and innovative persons are assets but only if they operate as members of a cohesive team. Needless to add, what need to be avoided in particular are groups of yes-men and/or sycophants.
One can hardly resist the temptation of expressing the view that one of the principal reasons for the failure of the strategies of developing countries like ours lies in their signal failure to develop cohesive and well-coordinated teams to carry forward their developmental plans. Most of these countries do not lack either resources or qualified manpower. Some of these countries (ours is an outstanding example!) have produced brilliant individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the developmental efforts of states other than their own. One possible reason may be that in their home countries these individuals, team-players by nature, are at times expected to function as solos and that too in an often unfriendly environment.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.