I have what you might call a big operation, spending roughly $280 billion last year, and I’m about to hire an executive board. Of course, my board members participate in decisions on only about 40% of that total budget, or just over $120 billion, since the rest is pretty much committed. I’ve taken money from people for years, promising to fund their retirements, and now I need to come across. I also run an insurance program for people who lose their jobs, so that money is spoken-for. I have deals with 13 subsidiary operations and they rely on me for the money to run their own activities. Finally, I owe the bank a lot of money and have to pay them interest. Still, it’s still a bigger operation than most.
I’m hunting for 308 board members, which might strike you as sort of unwieldy, but don’t fret. I don’t expect them to do much beyond staging mock fights for television, arguing fiercely and generally behaving rudely.
How does it sound, so far? Welcome to Canada’s House of Commons.
How has it worked, so far? Well, you be the judge. The Conference Board of Canada rates 17 countries on a whole raft of measures. As of February 2010 we scored near the top in education (oh, that pesky Finland, keeping us from the Numero Uno position) and the recent global economic crisis saw us move up from 11th to 6th in economic matters (oh, those boring bank regulators, keeping us safe—at least comparatively). On health outcomes we scored 10th, below Japan, Norway, those northern European countries (what, Finland again?), Italy and Australia. Apparently what’s sacred about our health care system isn’t the outcomes it delivers but the options it doesn’t. And as for innovation, we beat only 3 of the 17 countries, but it’s an over-rated virtue, don’t you think? Not that the Conference Board thinks so: Overall, countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. So that doesn’t bode well for our ability to stay Number 2 in education, for example, or even Number 10 in health outcomes.
It seems to me that if we want to do better, there’s lots of work for lots of folks: that’s OK, because there are a whole lot of them coming soon. The free-for-all to choose them—aka the federal election—is well underway, but it’s just the beginning. After the people have spoken and our representatives have been chosen….what then? Do we get real value from 308 Members of Parliament (not to mention their staffers and the public servants who execute their will) by institutionalizing a confrontational, win-lose mentality?
If value for money is what we want, there must be a better way than rewarding the antithesis of cooperation. There is a better way: organizations as diverse as business and sports have found it. It’s called teamwork.
In my profession, I routinely work on teams to deliver proposals against hard deadlines. For several weeks, a group of people who have nothing in common except their place of employment will move heaven and earth to decipher a customer’s requirement, plan how to meet it, and write a compelling case for why the customer should pick us. I love it when people work late, not because the boss said they had to, but to help someone else meet the deadline. I love to see creativity soaring under pressure, and I love the satisfaction a team gets from chasing perfection and settling for pretty damn good.
In my spare time, I sometimes watch baseball or hockey. At this time of year, I can do both. I love it when the boys of summer jump up out of the dugout to see if a soaring hit is going all the way. I love to watch grown men on skates hugging and hollering when someone scores a goal, and to see the players pouring over the boards, all exuberance, when they win a game.
All this effort and excitement is driven by competition: some inside the team, for sure, but most directed at the opposing team. That’s what’s so screwy about Parliament and politics in general: everyone acts as if the other parties were the opposition, when the true opposition we face is our real live problems. Maybe our politicians need some new expectations laid on them. I just happen to have some.
I expect our elected representatives to work with respect for their colleagues—Hard on the issues, soft on the people—and to work together for the country’s good despite their differences. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Do I expect them to stop playing ‘Gotcha!’ with each other’s every misstep? No, not really, although a girl can dream, can’t she? But if we can’t get our politicians to see Canada’s problems as their real opposition, maybe we can harness some of their natural combativeness by focusing them on competing with other countries.
Guys. Listen up. We can do this. We can go all the way. At least we can take Finland, for God’s sake. Team!