OPINION

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Team talk
I belong to two families: my own, and that of old friends in Melbourne. I have visiting rights in both, and over the weekend
I exercised these and went to the Big City. I always enjoy Melbourne  and am always glad to get back home. My friends are ardent Catholics, and their grandchildren play basketball. So I had the experience of two faiths. My friends are also business consultants and are at large in the world of management and organisations, so our conversations ranged widely. Although I am not a Catholic, they take me to mass with them and I always enjoy it. When I am there in the basketball season they also take me to see whichever of their grandchildren are playing. Both are immersive experiences, although I would be hard-pressed to say which was the more intensively felt.
Sport has always been more than a game. It is widely employed as a metaphor for life, and as
I watched the players, my thoughts were running along the lines of
a dinner-table conversation about what makes for a healthy organisation, and possible analogies between the worlds of business and basketball. I have lived and worked in organisations for much of my life in employment, ranging from steelworks to universities, mixed in with patches of khaki.
In the latter part of my life, I was a volunteer in the ambulance and fire services, positions I relinquished as I came to realise that age actually did impose limitations on one’s abilities. I miss many, but not all aspects of those lives, for in the end, I had become mistrustful of organisations, especially large and unhealthy ones.
But they impact on all of our lives, be it through our churches, our sports, or our politics, and
I often find myself musing on their shortcomings, epecially when people I know and love are affected by them.
But I was talking about the health of organisations, and the intersection between the mini-organisations in the teams I watched and those in the wider world, between the healthy and the less so. The basketball players were young, ranging from under-eights to under-14s. In an interval between games, we went to a band concert in which one of the grandchildren was playing the saxophone. It was interesting music, inclining, I think to swing: the significant thing was that the band, all girls as it happened, was also a team, like the basketballers.
What all the players, musical and basketballers, had in common, was a belief and a deep and evident commitment to shared goals. There was total individual and group commitment on the dais and the court. For the intervals of engagement, there were no distractions, no half-heartedness. There was a mix of oversight and mutually respectful supervision within a firm rules-based context. The band had its conductor, and the basketballers their referees and coaches, but all were seriously committed to a common goal.
On the court there was respect between players of both sides, and achievements were applauded all round. The spectators also subscribed to this, and although there was enthusiastic support, there was no barracking and little outright partisanship. All were comitted to fairness and positive comment. There was no backbiting and no personal criticism, not even of the referees. The aim was not so much to win as to have a good game.
There are of course, innumerable analogies to be drawn between having a good team and achieving success in business. My friend gave me a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Advantage, which argues that the health of an organisation is above all else, critical to its future, that the root causes of organisational disfunction and ill health are politics, poor communication, and confusion. Above all, there must be teamwork rather than individual brilliance, working to clearly articulated objectives to which all members subscribe, with no distraction from it by way of silo or empire building. Most organisations already hold a sufficiency of intelligence and expertise, but if the health of the organisation is not good, these will be negated.
We all know and have suffered under unhealthy organisations. If we can’t change them, we should leave them, and, perhaps, start our own.
John Fleming II

Free-range kids
Remember the 1970s, when we practised self-sufficiency, or wanted to? Some of us had a bit of a go at providing for ourselves and family, off the land, either on small acreage or a small block. Some of us, busy paying off mortgages and bringing up kids, deferred the joys of self-sufficiency until retirement, when we could really get into gardening.
In our household, our garden supplies enough fruit and vegetables for us, our family, and for friends and neighbours. We often give away excess, that which we haven’t been able to preserve. We almost manage to live off our garden produce for the entire year.
Back in the 1970s, we were entertained and inspired by British TV show The Good Life, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey.
The show, totalling 30 episodes over its life span, starred Richard Briers, Felicity Kendall, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington. It was about a man experiencing something of a mid-life crisis. The character Tom Good, a 40-year-old London plastics designer, and his wife Barbara attempted to escape modern commercial living by “becoming totally self-sufficient” in their home in Surbiton. The joys and heartaches were great comedy material. The experience of becoming self-sufficient – as portrayed in a television show – made the idea of a self-sufficient lifestyle on a suburban block seem easy. The show was hugely popular, earning millions of viewers and many accolades. The notion of a self-sufficient lifestyle influenced a generation, and was an ideal for many. Learning to provide for yourself is good, character-building training.
Character building
While the Goods didn’t focus on it, the program promoted the concept of free-range living. Free-range kids become free-range adults; they range freely, and hopefully think freely.
I read a 2016 magazine report which discussed the effects of going back to the land and self-sufficiency on “the children of the Good-Lifer’s”. Some children recounted the effects of living without water, electricity, television and many comforts as being both good and bad. Many of the subjects, as young people, found it all quite a lot of work, but also said that they learned from the experience and that the lifestyle added to their qualities as people, building character.
The article described the range of experiences of a small group of people. The character-building  effects may have helped to foster the generation which “saw wrongs and tried to right them”. Perhaps some of the children of that generation became the people who protested against nuclear proliferation and tried to save the world. Where have the protesters gone? Don’t despair. Reasons to protest and good causes are not in short supply. People who care are coming up through the ranks, thank goodness.
The new cause –
climate change
How would young ones today manage if their parents asked them to give up social media? Would they be able to do it? Whatever its ills, they are also likely to harness social media to help them make their point, as when American schoolchildren protested against gun laws, and children in Australia and worldwide made a stand over climate change. I am convinced that there is a new generation of young people who care about the planet, and as far as I know, they don’t have a comedy show to tell them how to do it. I am highly encouraged by this movement of young climate protesters. Taking a day off school to let those in power know that it’s not good enough to continue trashing the planet is a good way to say: “We will inherit your mistakes, so stop making them.” It does my heart good to see these young kids speaking up and doing something to improve the world.
Wouldn’t it be fun if a sitcom were made about learning to protest, learning to change bad habits, and stopping the climate-change deniers from mucking things up for the rest of us? I know of just the thing for the theme song – an oldie but a goodie from the 1970s: Teach the Children Well, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It just needs an updated title, and some re-jigging of the lyrics. Just change it to Teach Your Parents Well.
Merlene Abbott


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