Levers obviously provide leverage but the trick is knowing which ones to pull, when to pull them and how hard, and how to make the levers longer, thereby increasing their leverage.
Trust is a critical ingredient in healthy teams. It allows them to regularly self-reflect and self-correct with confidence, it reduces friction to enable initiatives to move faster, and fosters innovation by allowing risks to be taken at the right time with the right support. Trust is built by genuine communication and demonstration. When jazz musicians perform together for the first time, they must quickly establish trust. Ultimately this enables them to safely take the risks that come with exploring new musical possibilities. The baseline for this trust is that everyone will put the group and the group’s performances before themselves. They begin the process of building trust by showing respect, accepting that each person has something to contribute, and respecting each contribution. Listening with open ears, accepting with open minds, and appreciating with open hearts, the musicians foster a camaraderie that encourages each individual to give his or her best. As each musician demonstrates their ability to both contribute uniquely and support others, the trust placed in them by others is reinforced.
While great teams and organizations are built on trust, it is transparency that speeds up the process of building that trust and also brings so many other benefits. Transparency can attract both collaborators and consumers. A few reasons explain this. Transparency is alluring in the same way that passion is infectious. People appreciate honesty, openness, and authenticity. Most people have no desire to associate with someone who is phony or dishonest. Another reason is that people are naturally curious to know what goes on behind the scenes. Finally, transparency can give people comfort by alleviating any fears or concerns they might have about the unknown. By always defaulting to authentic, open timely, and clear communication, jazz musicians speed up the process of establishing trust by clearly communicating their intents and actions. Since they must deliver their product in real-time in front of their consumers, there is no time afforded to do otherwise. This is a powerful model to emulate for organizations that work at the speed of the Internet.
The OODA Loop developed by Col. John Boyd, defines four steps in a continuous cycle of execution – observe, orient, decide, and act. In this model, which can be applied to almost any situation and has been adopted extensively in business and military circles, great execution begins with strong awareness and observation. In jazz, where observation occurs primarily in the sphere of sound, “big ears” are valued over anything else because musicians with such high awareness are the ones who rapidly recognize and respond to opportunities for innovation or requests for support by other musicians.
Awareness is a multi-level concept. High degrees of self-awareness, team awareness, and situational awareness are all needed to achieve great success. In jazz, musicians who are self-aware listen closely to their own sound and contributions. However it’s even more important that they listen closely to their collaborators and to the combined sound of the group. This is team awareness. Finally, they must be keenly aware of their surroundings including how the consumers of their performance are responding. There are so many ways in which awareness plays a role in successful execution. Individuals with high self-awareness understand their cognitive biases and account for them in their decision-making and actions. Effective leaders with high team awareness must constantly monitor project and team health. Strong strategists with high situational awareness must monitor and respond to the changing environment in which their competitors and consumers live.
For many people, “diversity” is a word that immediately brings to mind the concept of gender, race, age, or other visually obvious ways in which we are all different. Yet there is so much more to diversity. If we consider the different ways in which people work, behave, and think, we will find those who are:
- Better at starting things vs those who are better at finishing
- Risk-takers vs those who are risk-averse
- Rushers vs those who tend to hold back
- Builders vs operators
- Initiators of change vs those who favor the status quo
- Prolific contributors vs those who say more with less
- Generators of choice (divergers) vs selectors of choice (convergers)
Building teams in which these styles of working and thinking are balanced is absolutely critical. In a jazz band if everyone will tend to rush, the whole ensemble will tend to speed up. Yet if there is a healthy balance between those who tend to rush with those who are more inclined to hold back, it will be much easier to maintain a steady tempo. As business teams work through cycles of divergence and convergence, ideating, scoping problems, exploring solutions, and so forth, they need to be equally strong at both styles of collective thinking in order to achieve the greatest possible success. Diversity is important for so many other reasons. Synergy, where the output of a team is more than the summed output of the individuals in the team, is more likely to be more present when the team is diverse. Diversity is a vital ingredient in technical innovation. Recent research analyzing more than half a million patented inventions and observed collaboration concluded that without diversity of technical experience, there is less likelihood of generating exceptional solutions while the presence of such diversity helps to reject poor solutions.
The importance of rhythm in music is easy to understand but it’s a powerful concept that can make or break so many other kinds of activities.
Tempo: It all begins with the tempo. In music the tempo is the frequency with which the most obvious and basic beat regularly occurs. It’s ever-present whether it’s heard or just felt. The tempo defines the overall pace of the musical performance and it plays a similar role in other activities. When the tempo is fast, a specific activity will take place rapidly and conclude sooner. When the tempo is slow, the same activity will take place at a slower place and therefore take longer to conclude. Just as a bandleader or conductor sets the tempo in music so do senior leaders in other activities.
Pulse: A musical pulse is just like your heartbeat. It’s a constant, regular event that drives the music and helps the musicians maintain synchronicity with respect to the tempo. The pulse is always a function of the tempo. Tap your foot regularly, about once per second, to set a tempo. Now click your fingers at the same rate and at the very same time as your foot taps. Do this for a while and then while your foot-tapping continues, change it so that you’re only clicking your fingers once for every two foot taps. You’ve just recreated a very typical way that jazz musicians vary the pulse while always respecting a constant tempo. In a similar way in business, project and team leaders can suggest a rate of activity that works for their team, while locking into the tempo that’s felt across the entire organization.
Groove: Ultimately it’s the groove that determines the activities across a team. Just as the pulse is synchronized to the tempo, the groove for an activity locks into the pulse. At its simplest, a groove is a repeating pattern of activities. Many teams have a regular series of events and activities that they perform. Perhaps it’s a planning meeting every Monday morning, a check-in on Wednesday afternoons, and a retrospective on Friday afternoons. When a team has a regular pattern that’s clear to everyone, it becomes an infectious groove that draws others in and invites everyone them to participate and align their own activities with elements of the groove.
These are the most fundamental elements of rhythm that teams can use to work together more effectively. By also understanding and employing structural forms that are appropriate to their activity and maintaining a strong respect for timeboxes and iteration, teams have a strong framework in which to execute and excel.