Last weekend, we went with some friends to the Hot Air Music Festival in San Francisco. It had been a while since we last enjoyed live music, and it stirred me in more ways than one. I was impressed that the students at the SF Conservatory of Music figured out a way to market their recital in order to draw a larger audience (donations welcome, but the event was free). There was even a logo, fancy website, and t-shirt. College performances are often attended by really supportive friends (in my experience anyway). While small by music festival standards, there was definitely more than just friends enjoying the showcase. Good move, students! As a dormant musician, it gave me a desire to pick up my flute or piano again at the earliest opportunity (both are sadly in storage at the moment). I was awe-struck with the latest developments in the instrumental world. Clearly I had not been keeping up with things. There were some esoteric pieces for sure, but also some interesting setups including some “non-traditional” ensembles (flute, marimba/xylophone, cello, electric guitar) and a piece that incorporated a PowerPoint presentation timed with the music (I wonder if that makes the projector an instrument too?). I especially looked forward to the percussion duet and was not disappointed (pictured above). Such interesting stuff performed by top talent.
Inevitably my thoughts wandered toward seeing all these musical collaborations as an analogy for organizational life. Others have done this as well. Max DePree’s Leadership Jazz: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader and Rosamund & Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life quickly come to mind. It’s easy to see how a great conductor can bring together all the parts of an orchestra or band to create beautiful music. Everyone is extremely talented, capable, and fully utilized. The conductor is a leader that guides a group of willing followers. Musicians are recognized with a post-concert bow. An audience is there is give immediate feedback. Digging deeper, a musical ensemble of any kind is a fascinating phenomenon where both individual and the group status are aligned and maintained simultaneously (lots of articles out there on individual vs. group interests). When musicians are playing music, membership within that group is unquestioned in that moment. Where it really counts during a performance, everyone steps up their game and the output is literally music to our ears. We know that such heightened awareness and engagement is impossible to sustain 100% of the time. After all, concerts typically last no more than 3 hours. Imagine what the musical quality and performance would be like on a 24/7 cycle. So how do we recreate the performance of a lifetime in organizations when a great opportunity arises? These are and have to be temporary situations or you can help yourself to a big serving of organizational fatigue. In addition, not everyone in your organization will be directly involved because you have to keep the lights on without business disruption. Perhaps there is a group or a team assembled to meet the challenge, a SWAT team, if you will. Your organization may have your own terminology for it. SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics, which seems so apropos in the competitive business world. How do we pick the right SWAT team? Let’s take a lesson from these student musicians and mix it up. Organizations are apt to choose based on availability, job title, politics and/or the usual suspects. Sometimes that means you get a crappy conductor and sub-par or tired musicians that don’t maximize that opportunity. Mix it up, call in that electric guitar, and focus on getting the best of the best talent for that particular business challenge, regardless of job title. Ensure each team member has an important part to play. Empower them to challenge the status quo and re-invent things like the duet for percussionists. Give them the audience that establishes purpose and feedback they need. Don’t be afraid to change the members in and out of the team. And finally, market the work like a music festival so people pay attention. You’ll be assured an extra special SWAT team experience.
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