A couple of months ago I went to see Broken Social Scene, a great Montreal-based band, at the Orpheum in Vancouver. After the show, I had a few "aha" moments while slightly tipsy from a bourbon & ginger, and had an enthusiastic discussion with my husband about how the band's front man, Kevin Drew, was the consummate project manager. I thought it would make an interesting blog post but never got around to it.
But then last weekend, I went to Blasted Church's Midnight Service at Christ Church Cathedral. It's great event put on by one of the Okanagan's leading wineries — it marries their wine with gospel music and great southern food in a beautiful church? all taking place close to midnight. After that performance I realized that the leadership and team characteristics of these two successful musical ensembles apply not just to the musical realm but also to our world as technology consultants.
So? now I must write!
Before I launch into explaining just what those characteristics are, first I need to describe these two very different groups. BSS is an ensemble band of about 20 people. At any given time during their show, you might have all of them on stage, some of them or maybe just one of them. They all take turns playing different instruments. They take turns being the "front man". Members can be young or old. They bring in guests (like the night I was there, K-os showed up on stage and there was a guitarist from Arcade Fire). They improvise and try all kinds of stuff that's off the menu. And sometimes Kevin Drew isn't even on stage. Sure, sometimes they make mistakes, but they have a ton of fun and play some great music — check out Shoreline and Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl if you're not familiar with them.
The Gospel Experience Choir that performed last weekend was also a fairly large group — twelve members — and included local legend and jazz vocalist Sibel Thrasher. They broke off into smaller groups to perform particular songs but most were done as an entire team. There was one woman who introduced a few more songs than the others, but it was hard to tell who or if they had a clear leader since each member led at least one song throughout the evening. As with all gospel, the singing was enthusiastic, emphatic and powerful. One woman who had been part of the group stepped up and did a heart wrenching song that was absolutely spellbinding, supported 100% by the rest of the choir on backup vocals. Throughout the performance, support and camaraderie were obvious.
So?what are the characteristics of these bands that we also see in great leaders and teams?
The leadership of these musical groups, be it formal or informal, gave latitude for members to try different roles, instruments and levels of responsibility? with the possibility of success or failure. In the gospel choir, one woman seemed to have her first solo — she was nervous and not the strongest of the singers, but I'm pretty sure she had just fulfilled a life's dream that night.
I know that when I stretch on a project, or support others with the space to do so, it's extraordinarily gratifying and almost always results in deeper skills and a richer experience.
During some songs for BSS, as I mentioned, the founder wasn't even on stage. He certainly didn't always singing the lead vocals or even positioned at the front of the stage when he was performing. He was humbled by the skills of his colleagues, visibly encouraged them, and had a great time with them. He also seemed to know that the band would do a great job whether he was onstage or not.
I've found that great leaders know when to step back and shine the spotlight on other team members. They know just when to push someone's comfort zone and when they are ready to rise to the occasion. And should they stumble, they are there to provide support.
Sum of the whole
In both musical examples, the teams worked together for a greater sound than they could make alone. They collaborated and innovated together. Sometimes they succeeded and other times less so — but they were definitely in it together.
I think we've all been on projects where you are working solo don't have the support or validation of a team. We know how much more we can achieve surrounded by other equally talented folks whose complementary skills make our work sing.
I wonder if you have similar experiences? Do you see the parallels?
In the meantime, I'm off to listen to some BSS — as a reminder of what it's like to be part of a great team, and what it takes to lead one!