The Ultimate High Performing Teamspost by Chris Curran on November 8, 2010
Last week was a big one for me and for Diamond. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for both as we joined forces with PwC. Much remains to be seen as with any new adventure, but it promises to be a high performing combination for our clients.
The week was filled with events geared to bring the two companies together to get to know one another, both as individuals and as firms. On Thursday afternoon, we were treated to an unusually moving and surprisingly relevant presentation - the Music Paradigm. Conductor Roger Nierenberg (who looks like a white-haired Willem Dafoe) invented the Music Paradigm to help increase awareness for the symphony. However, what he created is also something else - a laboratory of sorts that immerses an audience inside an orchestra to experience both the skill and teamwork critical to the success of its high performing teams.
Not a musician myself, I usually think of musicians as freewheeling when they play. What this experience showed me, however, is that at least for members of an orchestra, it can be quite the opposite.
Orchestras are High Performing Teams
What I learned is that a high performing orchestra has some real similarities to business projects and program teams - at least how we hope that they will operate- and is composed of:
- highly skilled team members
- small teams with very similar skillsets guided by a team leader
- teams who interact with other teams, sometimes by themselves and sometimes guided by a cross-team leader
- a plan, standards and methodologies
An interesting aspect of Nierenberg’s program is that he sources all of the musicians locally and only conducts a short practice session before the program starts. Only a team with highly skilled members and well-defined approaches could pull this off.
Achieving High Performing Business Teams
Nierenberg’s narrative during the presentation drew the audience to various parts of the orchestra to make a point. He asked different instruments to play in different ways - he told the oboes to play more like a flute, for example. I was struck at how agile each musician and team was in responding to seemingly strange and unfamiliar requests from their conductor. Agile seems to be an appropriate word to use in comparing the sections and orchestra as a whole to what we try to achieve with our business teams.
By watching and listening, I took away three behaviors from the orchestra - its musicians, team and conductor - that I think our teams would benefit from:
- Musicians understand that they have to give up a little of their own glory by playing together and in harmony to create something better for everyone
- Section leaders help guide their teams by performing a task first as directed by their conductor, then their teams follow
- Orchestra conductors come to their teams and are treated with respect and trust based on their credentials and ability to work within established standards and methods
At several points during the presentation, Nierenberg invited an audience member to stand on the stage with him to experience the orchestra as the conductor does - everyone said it was a totally different, almost 3-dimensional experience. Nierenberg said that being in the conductor’s position gives him a much more complete perspective and allows him to be more in sync with each performer and section.
As a final thought - what if we offered each of our team members the opportunity to lead a team, even if simply in a low risk, training environment? Imagine the perspective everyone would have.