From Brazil’s Samba Schools, Corporate Management Lessons

Latin Americans work better with people they know. This dynamic is at the heart of Brazilian samba schools that compete in annual Carnival parades, and may provide solid input for office dynamics and productivity in private companies.

Samba rehearsal for Carnival in Rio
Samba rehearsal for Carnival in Rio
Alfredo Behrens

RIO DE JANEIRO â€" For Brazilians, samba schools are management schools. As is often the case with people in emerging countries, Brazilians tend to form tight-knit groups, partly because of a deep-seated distrust of people they don't know. According to a study by World Values Survey, the number of people who trust someone they just met is five times lower in Brazil than in the United States.

As a pillar of cooperation, trust is crucial to team work. To avoid the "social trap," team members must all believe they will win if each of them is willing to cooperate. When people suspect their team members aren't doing their part, they're inclined to hold back and let others do the work. This suspicion arises most frequently when information is lacking, as is the case with big groups of people who don't know each other.

That's where samba schools have an advantage over the American management style companies largely favor. In samba schools, people are invited to participate in a group that has sprung out of a local community. All members know one another, or know someone who knows those they haven't yet met.

Because they are relatively small groups, it's easier to evaluate individual contributions. While samba schools organize parades of 4,000 people, they are each composed of branches of about 120 members, and these in turn consist of smaller groups of friends, colleagues and neighbors. These small groups facilitate the increase in scale: They can establish rules in keeping with the overall challenge, highlighting personal engagement without needing to measure performance.

Certainly, great effort is needed to coordinate even a small group of people. In samba schools, this is made easier as members share a clear objective â€" winning a Carnival parade prize â€" and because schools are run in a way that reflects members' culture. All this contributes to creating a strong sense of transcendence, which some have compared to a "religious" feeling.

While the public sees only the parade, the real pilgrimage takes place over the course of a year's teamwork. This is where Victor Turner's concept of comunitas emerges. True, winning is the goal, but it's rare to see a school win that wasn't already in the top four the previous year, which means that the parade effectively has 10 or so samba schools competing with no real chance of winning, and putting in a whole year's work for free. Ultimately, winning is the goal, but for samba participants, it's not the only source of motivation.

Modern corporations can't be run exactly like samba schools. For example, firms may need skills that are unavailable in their immediate vicinity. But when people don't trust people they don't know, borrowing some of samba schools' organizational wisdom can lead to greater corporate engagement â€" something that is currently lacking in Brazil and other countries. The samba school method also has the advantage of being free.

Business schools and companies in Latin America would do well to draw inspiration from their community organizations. These groups might just possess the secret to effective management for our countries, which are so culturally different from the U.S.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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