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This is something practically unheard of in civilian life. Egyptians are very individual, independent creatures to the extent that adhering to any kind of rules that restrict said individuality is a practical impossibility.

One flagrant example of that individuality and inability to cooperate in a team effort is the very miserable record of group sports activities. In individual sports we excel, we even have such great sports men and women who have broken world records in their fields, yet give me one team, made up of several individuals that has done well. I think this is something that should be instilled in the young, that the good of the group is more important than the glory of the individual and that when the whole group succeeds, so will the individuals making up this group.

It is a relief though that this team spirit is drilled into the members of the armed forces. Can you imagine the fate of an army made up of prima donnas? And it is this team spirit that has made the army the only entity in Egypt now that can undertake any project and get it done, efficiently and in a timely manner.

One of the most annoying aspects of this lack of team spirit is in trying to run a meeting. Bring in ten or more Egyptians, put them together to discuss a specific topic, and you have opened Pandora’s box. Just getting them to stop talking long enough for them to hear the rules of the meeting and the specific problem to be tackled will take at least ten minutes. Of course if the meeting starts on time – but that is yet another issue. Once they settle down and listen, if you are not quick enough to get the essential requirements drummed into them within the first ten minutes, the meeting never gets off the ground.

Supposing you do manage to get through to them that this is a meeting where a specific problem will be discussed, where each individual is to put in his suggestions for a solution and the means of carrying out that solution, then there will be a group discussion as to which is the best solution to be adopted in solving this problem.

The first hurdle would be in defining the problem.   Each one sees the problem from a different angle; each views it from a personal perspective and insists on regaling the group with the historic reasons why he or she personally thinks of this problem as such and from such a perspective. This would probably bore a few members of the team, who would at first start to fidget, then doodle, then whisper a comment to the person next to them. After a few minutes you find that out of the ten, one is speaking, three are listening and six are talking to one another about a totally different subject. You call the meeting to order. All whispering stops, then one of those who were talking would ask if you could possibly recap what has been said so that all would be on the same page!

A better scenario would be if those attending the meeting actually listen to what is being said, but then each and every one of them has a comment or a modification or a (better) suggestion that needs to be voiced immediately to make a point. Pandemonium breaks loose and everybody is talking at the same time and nobody is listening. Trying to bring that meeting back to order would probably offend most of those in attendance, as you would have them all stop talking and listen as one by one is allowed to put forward his/her ideas while the rest of the group stayed silent and actually LISTENED with the idea of either endorsing or turning down that suggestion. But when another’s turn is to speak, quite often the same thing is repeated in a different language, which shows that this person was not even listening to the previous suggestion a total waste of time and energy.

If a miracle occurs and a group of people come together and actually discuss a problem and find a solution (meaning that they actually talk about the subject and don’t go off in tangents, listen to one another and build on the different ideas proposed until a solution is agreed upon) then the method of implementation is the next hurdle that has to be overcome. If whatever is agreed upon is not very specifically and concisely written in the minutes of that meeting, each member of that group will later give you a different version of what was discussed and what was agreed upon. So after the meeting, the minutes must be drafted and sent to all participants for their approval and input before the final minutes are put together and circulated once more before issuance.

Only then do you have something approximating what the group had agreed upon. And then starts the following stage of implementation of the agreed upon solution. That would necessitate another group of people who are assigned the task of implementation, to meet and agree upon a method. So there we go again.

After going through that sort of exercise several times, now do you understand why a dictator is needed to get anything actually done and completed? Chairing meetings be they in business, or even for any group activity like raising funds for charity, neighbors setting up an owners’ association or even preparing for a party, could drive a saint to drink.

We desperately need that discipline that goes with team spirit, that generosity of soul that clarity of vision that sees the benefits of group activities being much more effective than individual performance. A genius within a group will always shine and individual efforts will always be recognized and hopefully acknowledged, but it is essential for the general good of a group or a society as a whole to work together as one entity towards one goal.

25 Sept. 2014