Not just any tête-à-tête!

2010-violin_MG_0227 - Version 2

Without any hesitation, or consultation, she picked up the red pen and scribbled some notes down in the margin of the musical score. She looked at her colleague seated next to her and nodded with a look of a “question mark” on her face, and was immediately greeted with an emphatic and resounding “yes” from his eyes. This intimate interaction continued throughout the remainder of the orchestral practice.

However, this little tête-à-tête was not just limited to this couple, it occurred with couples sitting next to them, behind them, in fact, all around them. There were trios, foursomes and even larger groups spontaneously erupting all over the stage!

Violinists, were talking to other violinists, trumpeters were waving to their friends in the double-bass section who responded with an immediate “thumbs up”! If you hadn’t had been watching, any one would have thought that there was an undisciplined, commotional, musical rabble in full force. However, what was occurring was the natural and evolving formation of sub-groups in the larger orchestra. The musicians were sharing their thoughts and ideas freely, there was no malice, withholding of information, and it appeared to be done most harmoniously and constructive.

The conductor then tapped his baton and immediately there was silence and all eyes and instruments were focussed on him. The orchestra then commenced playing with all their communal learning and experiences and the outcome was truly awe-inspiring.

I had just witnessed the final rehearsal of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) playing Mahler’s Symphony Number 2. But I’m sure that this famous and world-renowned orchestra would go through the same motions at all of their rehearsals.

So why can’t business learn from this orchestra? Why can’t they quickly form fully functioning sub-teams when required to focus on a work problem as a matter of normal practice? Businesses tend to only do this when in a time of crisis, or when a significant change is occurring?

The key is typically the prevailing culture of the organisation and it originates directly from the top. The conductor (or CEO) may be rather spiffy at waving his baton in a rather flamboyant and glamorous manner, but if the orchestra (or managers) aren’t following in “tune”, then the result will be utter chaos.

The right business culture takes time to develop. Work teams need to feel empowered and confident that their input into the larger business issue is significant and will make a difference. For instance, if the percussionists in the MSO didn’t play in time with the rest of the orchestra, regardless of how impressive the rest of the musicians played, the result would be rather discordant.

Another requirement is a willingness to listen to your colleagues in an open and unhindered manner. The conductor of the MSO listened and accepted feedback and suggestions for improvement from the various musicians, each of them a brilliant instrumentalist in their own right (just like a technical or functional expert in the corporate office). If your CEO doesn’t do this, well, is your CEO the right person for your business?

When a business has the right culture in play, the performance is “music to your ears, your employees, and to your customers”.

The Key to the Orchestra

Jan 3: Music manuscripts

As the conductor faces the orchestra, the most important item is the music manuscript which drives every musician on the stage. Each musician has a customized version of the master manuscript that is tailored to optimize their instruments output and to achieve a consistent and structured approach so the entire orchestra is unified.

This is a powerful business analogy:

1. The Music Manuscript
This is the strategy for the business and outlines the resources required, together with the timing needed to achieve the desired outcome. To write this manuscript, the composer needs a comprehensive appreciation of the instruments required to deliver the result, together with the expectations of the audience.

2. The Conductor
This is the CEO of the business who is in control of the total orchestral experience. A strong CEO motivates the players and keeps the orchestra on track. If necessary, the CEO will improvise and make changes to the manuscript based on the required needs of the audience or the experience and capability of the musicians.

3. The Musicians
Musicians are the functional departments within the business (eg Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, Finance, HR, etc). Each function makes a different sound which is emphasized within the business when required. Some sounds are the backbone of the business (eg the string section = manufacturing), other sounds make a big impact to make a statement (eg the brass section = marketing).
If one musician is playing out of key or is not in rhythm with the orchestra, this is noticed and a correction is applied.

4. The Audience
The audience is the customer who pays to hear the orchestra play.

5. The Music Critics
These are the shareholders. A bad review can lead to the sacking of the CEO and a change in music manuscript for the musicians.

The primary key to the success of all those in the orchestra is the manuscript. Get this right and everything leads to harmony!

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