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”.

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1 Comment

  1. I envy you your orchestra experience! Love listening to the pros–as you say, they’re just so good at what they do. And absolutely an orchestra is a finely tuned machine from which businesses can learn. Bravo 🙂

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