Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What in the Lamming lamenting?

This morning, as I drove to my place of breakfast, I was thinking about the problems of team building and individual excellence. If you have ever been on a very good team you will understand the problem well of keeping everyone happy. (A bad team is always facing the challenge of happy people.) A very good team usually contains many good and even some great individual performers, but the outcome is really about how the group performs on average, and it is especially important that no one has a bad moment at a crucial time.

But it is always a delicate balance to keep the team happy. Take a soccer team. It massacres its opponent 10-0, and two players score hat-tricks (3 goals). The goalkeeper never has a shot to save. The coach decides to let all the players allowed come off the bench and play in the game for the whole of the second half because at half time the score was already 8-0. Everyone happy? Who knows? The two hat-trick scorers are each cockahoop, but that soon turns into a bitter argument, with another player. That player did not score today, but one of the hat-trick scorers now leads the club standings for goals by one goal and with one game left to play looks set to take the bonus for that at the end of the season. The goal keeper enjoyed watching the game but never really felt part of the victory as he had nothing to do; he really wanted to coach to let his stand-in play from about 15 minutes into the match when the team was ahead 4-0. He thinks the coach should have realised this especially after the discussion at half time. He wondered if the team wanted to see him mess up. Some of the players felt that the goalscorers had been a bit greedy and could have set up other players to score, rather than just looking to pad their own statistics. And so on.

But the coach stepped in an in a rousing summary of the match explained how everyone had done to perfection what had been expected of them; that the team had executed the plan on which they had worked in training; and that because they had decided to stay unified on the field he could not see anyway that they could be defeated. With one game to go, the championship was theirs. Everyone cheered. Smiles appeared around the table and high fives and hugs were exchanged. The evening ended with a rousing rendition of "We are the champions". The goal keeper tore up the mental transfer request he had in his head.

When you are an individual performer you can usually easily judge how you have affected the outcome; it's not really about anyone else. You live and die with your own efforts. If you want to do team things then you will join a team. But you feel 'I'm alright as I am'. Anyway, joining with others may mean that they take some of what makes you good or may undermine what makes you good to get ahead. It's too much trouble. And so on.

Today, I read how acclaimed Barbadian writer, George Lamming, regretted that 'two generations after the failure of creating a genuine sovereign West Indian Nation, history is about to repeat itself' (see Barbados Advocate report). Lamming reportedly went on:

'...last year would have been the fiftieth anniversary of that event had it come to fruition...it would have lent itself to a richer, more triumphant cultural and political achievement for a family of islands made up of Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.“But after four years of petty, insular disputes and recriminations, the experiment failed and that moment was lost...'

He suggested that to avoid any repetition of such a “catastrophe”, citizens must be trained at the primary school level to accept the customs of other nationalities and respect these.

Even though he did not make the allusion Mr. Lamming showed what it is to want to stay as an individual performer and not be part of a team. However, he highlighted the essential problem. For a team to work, everyone has to agree that they want the team to work. If not, it’s just a pipe dream. So, if the West Indies has a problem it is that after many decades of talking about unity it is still a notion that is not generally accepted.

Mr. Lamming has nothing to lament on this score except that his desire did not see fulfilment. He should be sad if there really had been a widely expressed popular desire for unity. But I have never heard that cry.

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