Tuesday, December 12, 2006

There's No 'C' in Team

What's the worst thing about corporate America? What does corporate America have most in common with our current government?

Got it in one: falsehood. Lies. Deceit. Both are fed by a culture of deceit, and both are ultimately false to themselves. In fact, throw in the mass media and you've got a holy trinity of deception.

We've tapped away at this theme in a variety of ways here at the blog, and tonight I'd like to offer an object example of the kind of Rovespeak you find in both government and corporations. It's a single word: team.

Athletic metaphor is, of course, inordinately popular in government, the military, and corporate America. If you're a corporate worker, think back over the past year and see if you can recall how many times you've seen or heard the word "team"—on cubicle walls, on promotional or motivational posters, or from the lips of CEOs and their ilk. To what extent do you think you are part of a corporate team?

The "team" metaphor is certainly ubiquitous in Washington: check out the results from a search I did at whitehouse.gov.

Let's examine the metaphor, back in its natural place. Does the shortstop pull rank on the catcher, or the linebacker on the safety? Does the center demand mute obedience from the point guard? Are World Series won and lost by Chief Executive 2nd basemen or presidential left fielders?

So there are coaches or managers on the bench, in the dugout, or on the sidelines, directing things, giving orders, and changing players. But are these "chiefs" in a corporate sense? Their authority is delimited; they cannot go onto the field except when play has stopped. Their pay sure is plenty less than that of nearly everyone out there on the field of play: in big league baseball, an old, steroid-drunk outfielder and an old, once-great pitcher can still draw $16M a year while their managers will be lucky to pull down a tenth of that—exactly the opposite of the corporate model, where the CEO makes about 300 times more than the working stiffs on his "team."

Try this experiment, sports fans: see if you can make a corporate-style org chart out of your favorite team. I'm betting you won't get very far. That's because when a team is out there on the field, there is no room for the rigid and punitive corporate structure that many of us are familiar with from our own jobs. The hierarchy is absent, and it must be, since any fixation over who's in charge or whose power is paramount on the field would instantly lose the game.

So examine now the old bromide that "there is no 'I' in 'team'." I would disagree: there are plenty of 'I's' in team; it's just that they point in the same direction, they flow toward similar goals. But a corporation is different: it tries to put a 'C' in team, as in Chief (Executive Officer, Information Officer, Operating Officer, etc.). I've written about that aspect of it elsewhere; the point here is that this obsession with position spills downward through the ranks, until you see the familiar battles, struggles, and competitions all the way down to the mail room.

The attempt to put a 'C' in team turns it into a tribe, a cult.

There's another point to this, which brings us back to our government. Putting the 'C' into team led to the Katrina debacle, the continuing morass in Iraq, and the swindling of the American middle class. Putting the 'C' into team led to the laughably ambivalent and ineffectual performance that the Iraq Study Group gave us (as Jon Stewart remarked in the video above, it's too late for a study group now—the test was three years ago). Frank Rich made this point with his usual eloquence on Sunday.

On a truly functional team, there is no "decider," only decisions. The fact that I called you off that fly ball on the last play doesn't mean you can't do the same on the next. There has been some tortuous effort in the MSM over the past month to single out a "decider" in the outcome of the recent elections: it was the "Clintonistas"; it was Howard Dean; it was the Democractic machine.

I would suggest that it was simply millions of "I's", lined up at polling places in states both red and blue; and that together, they made a team.


Site Note: Sometime last week, we uploaded our 400th post here. Not bad for a couple of working stiff Irishmen with nothing to motivate them except white-hot anger and a steadily increasing community (or team) of visitors. My thanks go out to my partner Terry McKenna, all our occasional contributors, and most of all, to every person who stops by to read our content. I hope it's made a small difference for you, and we'll keep trying.

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