Leading Your Team to Better Music

Posted by:

Have you ever played in a rock band? Or, for that matter, any kind of musical group: jazz ensemble, symphony orchestra, marching band, 3rd grade kazoo orchestra? I’m currently rehearsing with a semi-professional (emphasis on “semi”) rock band for a couple of upcoming gigs (and yes, we’re playing a healthy selection of Beatles!), and here’s what I’ve found over the past few weeks: If you’ve ever been involved in any kind of musical combo, playing with other musicians, then you know virtually everything you need to know about building, and working with, an effective team.

Let’s look at some of the parallels.

1. A common goal. I’m going to use a rock band for these examples, but no matter what kind of music you and your fellow musicians are playing, you’re playing the same piece of music. Maybe it’s a song, maybe it’s a symphony—all your efforts are directed toward a common goal. One of the songs my band is playing is the Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There. When we’re playing it, the goal for each of us is to make that song sound as good as we possibly can. And there’s no ambiguity: we all know exactly what song we’re playing (i.e., we all know what the goal is), and we all know what it should sound like (we can all measure the success of the outcome).

2. Different strengths. I’m usually a drummer, but in this band I’m primarily playing keyboards. We have a great drummer. We also have a dynamite female vocalist, a top-notch lead guitarist, and great bass and rhythm guitar players. Obviously, I’m not going to play what the drummer is playing. And he’s not going to be playing what the lead guitarist is playing. And the bass player isn’t necessarily playing the same notes that the singer is singing. We all have our jobs to do, and they each require different skill sets. The bass player’s job isn’t any less important than the lead guitarist’s because he plays fewer notes. If he tried to play as many notes as the lead guitarist, the song (the goal) would be ruined. Playing bass is a different skill than playing lead guitar, but they’re both crucial for the success of the song.

3. Different people shine at different times. To be honest, I don’t really have a lot to do on I Saw Her Standing There. The song is driven by the guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. No keyboard. But when I’m pounding the keyboard into submission on Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire, or juggling the multiple brass parts on Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4, the spotlight is on me. On the Beatles’ Oh, Darling, the focus shifts to the lead singer. How do we decide who gets the star turn? Simple: the song decides. And the focus may shift within the song (as, for example, when the lead guitar takes over on 25 or 6 to 4). Again, it’s the song, the goal, the outcome that determines whose particular skill set will rise to the top at any particular time; not ego, or seniority, or who hasn’t had a chance to shine recently.

4. Some people will shine more than others. Let’s face it: in most rock bands, the bass player is never going to stand out as much as the lead guitarist. (The Beatles, of course, were an exception—but only because the bass player, Paul McCartney, was also a brilliant lead vocalist, as well as being “the cute one.”) There’s no “equal time rule” in a rock band, or a symphony orchestra. There are a million violin concertos, but very few bassoon concertos. Some players, by virtue of their job, get more time in the spotlight than others. I used to work in television, and trust me—on the street, the news anchor’s gonna get recognized a lot more often than the guy who pulls the cable. Some people may think this is unfair; I think it’s just a fact of life. In your work teams, you’re going to have violinists and you’re going to have bassoon players. They each have a vital job within the team, and they’re each equally valuable, but if you keep going out of your way to make sure they each get equal time in the spotlight, you’re going to make some very, very bad music. And you know what? Some people don’t really want the spotlight. Some people do their best work away from the blinding glare.

5. Each member knows their job. Four of the members of my band sing (no, I’m not one of them), and they do some pretty fabulous harmonies. When they harmonize, they’re each singing a different note, but they know exactly where their particular note fits into the overall sound. Likewise, when I’m playing keyboards, sometimes I’m simply laying down some background strings, other times I’m ripping through a synthesizer lead. But whatever I’m doing, I know exactly how it’s contributing to the song (again, the goal). Even if I’m “only” shaking a maraca (like, for example, on the Stones’ Brown Sugar), I know that it’s making a small, but significant, impact. Now, shaking a maraca doesn’t really excite me as much as playing the piano on Great Balls of Fire. It’s not a glamour job. To be honest, it’s kind of dull. But in the context of the song, it’s fun! When I know how my part, my job, is contributing to the overall goal, I’m more motivated.

Take some time today and listen to the Beatles, or the Benny Goodman band, or the London Symphony Orchestra, and hear what a great team sounds like. And then apply those lessons to your own team. You’ll make better music.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
  Related Posts