Why Truly Great Teams Operate Like Orchestras
Think of how a chamber orchestra creates music: a large group of individuals, all performing their own roles and yet somehow together they are perfectly in sync–no verbal communication needed. When it’s done well, it might be the most beautiful example of teamwork you’ll ever hear.
That’s why music aficionado Allison Eck focuses on the orchestra as a model for effective teamwork in a recent 99u article. Eck interviewed several members of the Grammy-nominated, Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry, to parse what it is that makes these musicians great communicators even, and especially, when the going gets tough. While this particular music group doesn’t have a conductor, there are still plenty of leadership lessons to be gleaned from how they operate. After all, the tried and true saying also applies to business: The show must go on.
Here are four of her top takeaways, which you should consider applying across the different silos at your company:
1. Switch it up.
The players in A Far Cry change seats for every piece that they play, and Eck argues that you should consider doing the same. It helps the players to “take on different roles and embody them fully” said Sarah Darling, one of the group’s founding members, in an interview with Eck.
While this can mean (literally) sitting in a different spot around the conference table, there are more symbolic applications too: Try letting somebody new lead a meeting, for instance. That person might just surprise you, helping the whole group to become more willing to embrace the unknown.
2. Stop comparing.
Eck argues that you need to limit the amount of comparisons you make between yourself and other members of the group. While some healthy competition can be good, focusing on someone else’s work instead of your own will certainly hamper overall productivity, as well as your self-esteem.
“If someone is seemingly smarter or more talented than you are, accept your current limitations and work with what you’ve got,” she writes. That’s what musicians have to do: They hone their own parts to keep from becoming distracted from the music itself.
Another note: If you do decide to emulate someone–because certainly, having a role model can be helpful in the beginning–make sure to focus on particular qualities you admire in that person. It’s easier to take on a certain attribute, say, attention to detail, than it is to become generally excellent overnight.
3. Predict before you react.
Musicians know how to anticipate other players and respond accordingly: “Ideally, you don’t want to be just following the person; you want to be leading with the person,” Darling told Eck. So too should your team learn to predict the actions of its other members.
This is especially true in high-stress situations. If you can predict how others on your team will behave, you’re less likely to react heatedly in the moment.
4. Learn to let go.
As an entrepreneur, relinquishing control probably doesn’t come naturally. But sometimes it’s necessary if you want to build a team that trusts and respects you.
The same goes for musicians: As artists, they tend to become emotionally invested in their work, and any individual player may be tempted to lead the group for themselves. Reeling in that desire for control, while still maintaining an overarching passion, is the fine balance that musicians must find.
Ultimately, writes Eck, the key to effective communication is accepting that you can’t go it alone. All great musicians–like groundbreaking entrepreneurs–rely on others to succeed.
You can read some of Eck’s other insights over at 99u.