I have always been a fan of Big Bands. They create such amazing, diverse sounds, from the beautifully orchestral Glenn Miller Band, to the endlessly energetic music produced by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Music has taught me a whole host of valuable lessons, but it is only since I started working for Hot Spots Movement that I have begun to realise how useful it is to consider the Big Band as a metaphor for the organisation. Here are a few ways that I believe tapping into jazz can help you to improve your performance at work.
There are no mistakes in jazz
It’s an old cliché but experimentation, expression and freedom are what jazz is all about. You shouldn’t be afraid to try new notes and rhythms, because that’s how you push the melody forwards and create something new and exciting. This attitude should hold true in the workplace as well. Recent research has indicated that high performance organisations actively promote risk-taking and have a high tolerance for failure and setbacks.[i] Those who never make mistakes are actually perceived as “too safe” and are seen to be avoiding opportunities to innovate.[ii] Improvise, explore new ideas and do not be afraid to fail; you never know what you might discover.
Solo, Soli, Tutti
It’s written into the music: there are times when you are expected to play alone and to take the lead (solo); times when you play in sync with your section (soli); and there are times when the whole band comes together as one (tutti). Knowing when these moments are and when you should be playing either a leading or a supporting role is vital. Great leaders are also great followers: they know the strengths of their people and are able to defer to the expertise of people in their team. In doing so, they develop leadership qualities in others and create a collaborative, successful team that respects each other’s skills and leverages everyone’s talent. Being able to both lead and follow – and recognise when each is appropriate – demonstrates your commitment to the group and shows that you are thinking about what you produce together rather than what you can produce alone.
Practice makes perfect
Like typical business meetings, rehearsals are necessary to discover how the music (or, indeed, the project) is developing. During rehearsals, players have the opportunity to learn from each other and to see how their individual parts feed into the whole. However, the most sophisticated players also spend time practicing their part alone, away from the group, in order to improve not only their command of the piece but their general playing ability. Similarly, research has shown that, in the workplace, taking time to step back and process your work fuels creativity, as employees are given space to arrange their thoughts and explore the ideas that emerged in collaborative sessions.[iii] Time away from the music room or office to practice your techniques and hone your thinking is vital, as interspersing collaboration and solo time makes for the most well-rounded and competent players and employees.
So, when you next think about your team performance, perhaps ask yourself – do we operate in a safe space which encourages us to experiment and learn? Do we know when to take solos and when to step back and support others? And, finally, are we taking enough time to process our work and explore ways to innovate and improve our performance? If the answer to any of these questions leans towards the negative, tapping into jazz may be a real way to drive your team forwards.