Not too long ago, I met with a group of musicians to “jam,” or improvise together after a while. In our eclectic group was a guitarist, a Middle Eastern drummer, a jazz pianist, and two vocalists(one of them myself).
We had all never played together before. We were each talented in our own instruments, but learning how to play together in a rhythm and flow did not come easy at first.
For me, the lesson was deep. I had to remember again how to listen closely to the other instruments/voices in the room and adjust my responses based on the new input, and not just according to my own whims.
I had to relearn how to create spaces for the others to have their solo parts, whereas when practicing on my own, I had been used to singing nonstop.
I noticed how when we talked to eachother in between playing and exchanged ideas or direction, it improved the collaboration and understanding of one another when we did play.
Organizations are no different from an orchestra, jamming and improvising together.
Contrary to what we may believe, it does not necessarily take time together to achieve this synchronicity, though time can certainly help. Rather, it takes the intention to be open-minded and discernful, to achieve the rhythm that allows for organizational effectiveness.
The first step to a successful music session is to listen to what is going on. Listening happens with not only the ears, but with the eyes and in fact, with the entire body. An individual musician needs to understand the context they are in first, in order to feel where and how they should come in – where their instrument would best serve the whole.
Similarly, the first step in an organization is to assess the current context – the existing style and culture of leaders and teams, and how work is getting done. It’s only from this initial listening, using all of our senses to understand the words, body language, and energy of the organization, that an individual can best adapt themselves and contribute their unique set of skills.
Imagine if someone started working with a company and doing exactly what they did for a previous job, rehashing the same approaches and Powerpoint decks(this happens all too often, unfortunately). Most likely, this would not be very valuable for the company. What worked at one organization would not necessary work in the next.
Many companies also have teams working in silos, unaware of what’s going on within other functions or how the work all ties together. This can cause major conflicts and misunderstandings, and the organization functioning “out of tune.” Seeing the big picture view is an essential first step to organizational effectiveness. The highest functioning organizations we’ve seen have conducted value-stream mapping exercises, where teams gather in one large space and visualize how they work together to create value for the enterprise.
In musical jam sessions, we’ll often invite new musicians to come join. What we are inviting here is not just their instrument, but the new musician’s personality, their way of thinking, and their way of communicating. It is our job as musicians to try our best to adapt to this new energy for the duration of the session. And part of the fun of the process is this constant experimentation and learning together.
Similarly, organizations will experience turnover and new hires. They will need to adapt to new tools(instruments) coming in to help them become more effective. They need to be ready and willing to accept new ways of thinking and working.
This is where diversity and inclusion become so essential. Diversity includes and also goes beyond external characteristics, and trickles into how people like to think, communicate, and work together. Being open to adjusting to different styles is an essential competency that organizations need to adopt in order to be successful. High-functioning organizations regularly invite new minds into existing meetings to get a fresh take on projects.
It also takes a real capacity for discernment. For example, some songs don’t really require all the instruments. If everyone tried to play, they would sound cacophonous. So, you need to know when it’s time for you to participate and when it’s time to sit back.
Similarly, there are some initiatives, decisions, and meetings that don’t require everyone to be involved. It’s essential to choose the right people as decision-makers, informed parties, etc. In tangible terms, creating a RACI of roles and responsibilities can be helpful. But often these decisions need to also be made intuitively.
In addition to parties involved, teammates must be able to discern work and communication styles in order to form the highest functioning teams. This requires going beyond the specific project itself to understanding the person: 1. What excites them about the work? What doesn’t? 2. How do they like to communicate? Our client United had its employees complete the Predictive Index and DISC assessments and post the results to their profiles so that team members could understand eachother’s work and communication styles.
The most effective way to communicate is through multiple levels and modalities.
As a band, while we were playing our instruments, we communicated through our eyes and through our facial expressions and gestures to give eachother cues and important information on when to come in. This is similar to how a team may relay important information in real-time about the project or issue at hand.
However, in between songs, we shared our reflections through words on how we felt about how we were playing together. This communication was also valuable, as it helped us to discuss HOW we were working together and what we could improve next time. It also helped us understand eachother more deeply.
Similarly, the highest functioning organizations use multiple types and channels of communication. High-level strategic communication, project-level communication, and process improvement-level communication are all essential to optimizing the organization’s rhythm. Creating routines and rhythms of daily stand up meetings, for example, can help teams bond and support eachother more effectively.
In the old paradigm of work, time was the limiting factor of creating organizational effectiveness. The longer that teams worked together in stable and predictable conditions, the more efficient and effective they were. While this is still true to some extent, in today’s world of constant change, adaptiveness has become more important than time.
Adapting effectively means striking a balance. This is the balance between including vs excluding, between involvement vs sitting out, between managing vs enabling self-direction. When goals are aligned and in rhythm, the organization instinctively aligns and enters in and out of flow states, much like a band or orchestra does. From that point, it is a constant process of learning and adapting together to be able to meet ever-changing, dynamic scenarios.
Want to learn how to get your organization playing together like an orchestra? Check out our work in leadership development, culture, and communication analytics at CultureStrategy.io!