A Little Music Theory for Your Management

Teams will be as versatile and adaptable as their leadership. In some cases, strong and specific direction is called for -- allowing each person to expertly play their part while following within narrow scope and under well-timed guidance might be the best course. In others, allowing your expert players to innovate within a more fluid space will produce the results you need.

In other words, ask yourself: Do I need an orchestra or an improv Jazz ensemble?

Truly visionary leaders recognize that every team needs the skills to act as either of those and that the leader will set the environment up for the right one as needed.

In both the orchestra and the jazz ensemble, you start with musicians who know their craft. As individual performers they need to be developed and feel confident in the part they play. If you are truly lucky, you have some who are versatile enough to be able to play more than one instrument. At the very least, they all have to be both passionate in their own performance and recognize that by playing together they create a whole that is greater than each individual contribution. Appreciation for the performance of others strengthens the team and directs them to the shared goal.

Conducting the Orchestra

The most basic example of the Orchestra is when you have a well-defined process that produces good outcomes and improves with repetition. This might be rolling out a new product or implementation of a best practice with a new client.

In those cases, you will oversee the final execution. However, most of the work will be done before that. It will be in developing the right process. Through either a quality review and improvement process or testing, you will have found the errors and corrected the process. Lessons learned in past performance will inform and improve the next. Your team will be looking to you for pacing, small course corrections and feedback along the way. During the equivalent of the final performance, you will look to your team to play their parts with their best effort and listen to each other for the tiny adjustments they may need to make.

Letting the Jazz Improv Innovate

When listening to Jazz improvisation, it may appear as it if it happening purely organically. That is only partially true. Each player, an expert in their own instrument, is part of a precise background structure that allows the soloist to lead them through innovation and improvisation. Through shared theme they can adjust to the variation and create new through the collaboration.

Teams benefit enormously through this approach as well. Team members who have developed expertise and seek ways to foster creative idea generation are needed for the improv to work. In product development or areas such as marketing or employee training, a solid foundation of best practices creates the leaping off point from which innovation springs.

Think to the last time your team truly brainstormed. When done well, the activity is organic. It is based on a shared understanding and deep expert knowledge by everyone in the room. Natural leaders emerge. Ideas are sparked and grow into themes. All that occurs, not in anarchy and chaos, but through a fluid dialogue during which all the players are listening and building on each other.

It's All Based in the Same Place

Whichever is called for in a given situation, conducting the orchestra and allowing the improv to flow, there are three common central threads. You need players who are deeply steeped in their own area while open to working together. You need an environment that fosters behaviors which drive excellence and innovation. You need to be the leader who recognizes which of the two is called for and be able to cultivate the atmosphere for the situations.