orchestra and team harmony
Inside The Office Management

Orchestras and Team Harmony: Playing in Tune

Many years ago, when I was newly appointed as the leader of a large team, I met with them to introduce myself and to learn more about them. And I shared an analogy that continues to ring true in my mind today: that we’re an orchestra and I was their conductor.

The conductor’s role is to have a finely tuned ear to distinguish how well the orchestra is performing – and, if necessary, identify the steps needed to perform at the level expected to deliver a masterpiece. Similarly, the leader’s role is to distinguish how well the team performs in harmony and to provide coaching and guidance to reach their goals and objectives.

I observed that this team was filled with skilled people across several areas of expertise. Some were “first chair” leaders in their space, and others would have opportunities to play solos or duets, leading projects. My role was to work with them to identify the proper music or deliverables based on their capabilities; to ensure that we begin and complete, slow down and speed up at the same time; to ensure we maintain the same momentum and provide a pleasant and cohesive atmosphere for our audience or customers.

I also knew that when individual members of the orchestra or team were out of tune: offbeat, missing or playing the wrong notes, it would quickly become evident that something was wrong. Their audience or customers would have a negative experience, and the team wouldn’t meet their deliverables.

Out of tune

What does it look like when members of the team are out of tune and lack harmony?

  • A team member criticizes or minimizes someone’s presentation in a meeting.
  • A team member fails to deliver their part of a project on time.
  • A team member continuously derails meeting topics by getting in the weeds, going off on a tangent, or presenting roadblocks.
  • A team member blames others for their failures and deflects criticism.
  • A team member exhibits behavior that violates the team values.

These and other subtle yet comparable behaviors are unfortunately common in teams. Whenever confusion or misaligned behaviors persist, they are headwinds to progress.

Conducting and coaching

If you’re the leader or conductor of the team, your job is to ensure the environment is conducive to higher productivity, to make it easier for everyone to perform optimally. That means you must get inside the team dysfunction to find ways to improve the dynamics.

Here are several actions to facilitate team harmony.

1) Build relationships.

People on the team may know each other, but do they have positive relationships with each other? Have they discovered their similarities, shared interests, or desires, whether at or outside work? Set aside part of your meeting time to invite the group to respond to questions that will deepen their knowledge of one another. They will likely discover more points of interest and connection than they realized, and this may form the basis of improved relationships. Here are some thought starters.

  1. When you were a teenager, what did you want to do when you grew up?
  2. What activities give you energy or drain your energy?
  3. What are you passionate about?
  4. What makes you laugh, and what makes you cry?
  5. Name someone you admire, and why.
  6. What behaviors trigger you?

2) Find complementary strengths.

Coach the team and position them to learn from each other. Do they recognize each other’s strengths, even as they see each other’s weaknesses? Pair them up on projects where their skill sets will complement one another. Part of the project report should be to share what they learned about each other and from each other.

3) Encourage discussion.

While some meetings have firm time limits, schedule other meetings when there’s time to dig into a topic, invite respectful and thoughtful discussion, and manage negative behaviors. Challenge people to move out of their comfort zones, to participate and collaborate, rather than avoid conflict. Invite diverse opinions to thoroughly evaluate options.

4) Meet needs.

Discuss what a safe team environment looks like. One way to do this is to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which says that everyone needs:

  1. Physiological (food, water, shelter)
  2. Safety and security (health, employment property)
  3. Love and belonging (friendship, sense of connection)
  4. Self-esteem (confidence, achievement, respect from others)
  5. Self-actualization (acceptance, creativity, purpose).

Assuming that levels one and two are met, ask the team to describe behaviors that support the latter three areas. Then, give them permission to hold each other accountable for providing that support.

Note that these actions have nothing to do with the actual work being performed (or the musical selection being played). It’s more about how members of the team work and play together, and how they treat one another. As their team dynamics improve, their ability to produce beautiful music together improves. And the conductor sets the tone for bringing out their best qualities.

Want more tips to keep your team in harmony? Read Winning Teams: “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts”.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit priscillaarchangel.com.

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