My wife and I recently had the privilege of attending an intimate performance by a world-renowned jazz quartet. As we enjoyed the music, the environment, and the experience, I realized how the same factors create a powerful jazz performance and a powerful team business culture. Let’s look at eight ways jazz can teach us about team culture.
We entered the small jazz club—the lights were low, the tables scattered throughout the small venue, the instruments waiting expectantly on the stage. As I reviewed the program for the evening, I marveled at the clarity of purpose of each of the musicians; their education, their passion, their blood, sweat, and tears all coming together in that moment with the sole purpose of creating beautiful music together. Businesses that discuss and emphasize their team purpose and the purposes of each of their staff create a powerful identity that can power their culture.
As I reviewed the program, two of the musicians walked on stage and began preparing for the show. One at the piano, the other on upright bass, they began to methodically tune the instruments to create the perfect sound. How many times had they done this simple preparation? What seems like a mundane task is actually essential preparation for their performance that night. Team culture that focuses on proper preparation enables the entire team to produce their best work.
After tuning their instruments, the rest of the musicians came on stage and the group began to play. Slowly at first, the group eventually found their rhythm and worked their way into the first song. The most important part of this first song was the inter-connectedness of the quartet — the piano player intently watching the rhythm of the drummer; the bass player watching the energy and flow of the piano; the saxophone player watching all three instruments to join the pace of the music. Without awareness, without this inter-connectedness, the music cannot reach its pinnacle. Team culture built on inter-connectedness is vital to getting projects and great work off the ground and accomplished.
As the music quickly ramped up, it became apparent immediately how years of preparation and dedication helped create this harmonious, synergized sound. Each of the instruments blending together with the others created perfectly timed, perfectly matched sound. How does your team culture create harmony between the players? Does your preparation and connectedness create the best possible synergy of work?
5. Space to Shine
The beauty of jazz music is not only its synergy, but also its space for improvisation. The tenor saxophone player sits down, eyes closed, soaking in the music. The drummer brings the rhythm down to a steady, subtle backdrop. The bass player joins him, creating a repeating baseline, which allows the piano player to roam. His fingers fly over the keys, exploring new spaces, taking years of training and the support of his fellow players and finding new music. As he concludes his exploration, the bass player tries a new riff, playing faster, then slower, then with more energy. Finally, the drummer has his chance to shine as a solo player, raising the energy of the audience to new heights. There is space in jazz for individuals to shine and to grow. Does your team culture offer individuals a chance to shine and grow?
Suddenly, with barely a noticeable look of the eyes and nod of the head, the drummer brings the entire quartet back into the original song. Over the course of the entire performance, I was in awe of the way a look, a nod, a turn of the head, or a simple hand gesture could communicate in depth the next move of the performance. How does your team communicate? Does each member of your team understand the cues, the signals that you share to move on and produce the next great work?
Within these levels of inter-connectedness and communication, I was struck by yet another core value of the performance—trust. Every member of the quartet must trust their fellow players to keep the rhythm, to stay within the song, to stay on pitch. If one player loses the rhythm, the entire synergy is lost. Likewise, if your team fails to execute consistently, projects will be incomplete and deadlines missed. Your team culture must be one of trust. If your team members do not trust each other to do their jobs, you will not be successful as a business. So, do you have trust within your team?
Finally, my experience of this jazz performance reminded me of the importance of energy and response in our team cultures. The players feed off of the energy of each other, the audience, and the songs themselves. You can see the players getting lost in the power of the moment and In the emotion of the song. The energy we give each other on our team, along with the energy of the work itself, is vital to doing our best work. Are you responding to the energy of your team? Is the work that you do getting your team the energy it needs to create a powerful, vital culture?
When these team culture conditions exist, jazz shows us that it’s possible to create consistent performance, dynamic improvisation and new innovation. If these are your goals as a company, then take these ideas to heart and invest in your team culture.