String Quartet
Image Courtesy of 99u

A successful string quartet such as the Kronos Quartet can teach volumes on teamwork – lessons that would be invaluable to business leaders and working creatives for the simple reason that they are masters of communication. Their success is heavily dependent on their level of real-time collaborative communication.

In an interview with members of “A Far Cry”, a chamber orchestra that behaves more like a quarter than a symphony orchestra, Allison Eck discovered 9 vital lessons that we should all learn about the functioning of a healthy innovative team:

  1. Switch Roles Regularly

The musicians constantly sit or stand in different spots for every piece to give the audience some visual variety while allowing themselves to engage with the music in different ways throughout the concert.

Switching chairs - String Quartet
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

Figuratively speaking, teams can “switch chairs” by letting new people take on leadership roles during meetings. The result will likely be a shift in the group’s collective personality, a newfound nimbleness, and a tolerance—even eagerness—for the unexpected. Via 99u

  1. Play Your Part

The musicians spend countless hours scrutinizing their individual parts so that they not only play their individual roles well but also to ensure their interpretation of the music is accurate. This requires a significant level of human thoughtfulness.

An oft-cited concern in the workplace is that people feel they’re not sharing their opinions frequently enough—or worse, that their opinions don’t mean anything. But worrying about the legitimacy of one’s contributions leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Instead, understand that interpretation is embedded in the nature of the job itself… Every aspect of the work requires your human intellect and emotional sagacity to seamlessly integrate your company’s moving parts. Via 99u

  1. Don’t Compare

Although any good musician will have several external influences, he or she will ultimately need to let go of comparisons and make the music personal.

Don't Compare
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

This means you should remind yourself once in a while to just play the music. Put simply, stop comparing yourself to others and recall why, deep down, you care about the work in the first place. If someone is seemingly smarter or more talented than you are, accept your current limitations and work with what you’ve got (after all, that’s what the other person is doing, too). Via 99u

  1. Spend Your Energy Wisely

When a violist’s part is similar to that of the violin, the violist should put his or her energy into adding depth. In contrast, when a cellist’s part is a variation on the melody, he or she will try to echo the other instruments’ parts while giving it his or her own spin.

Non-musicians can ask themselves similar questions while at work. In what situations are my contributions most appreciated and most useful?… Knowing where to put your energy can save you from burnout—and it’ll be healthier for your team overall.  Via 99u

  1. Anticipate Needs

Musicians need to watch one another intently so they can sense where they are taking the music and how the rest of the group should support that.

Anticipate needs
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

In non-musical settings, anticipation is part prediction, part preparation. You predict what the person is going to say (even if it ends up being totally off-base), and you prepare your response accordingly… You’re focusing on how to roll with whatever’s about to be said—not push against it. Via 99u

  1. Nominate – Don’t Assign

Members of A Far Cry are given the chance to nominate someone they think would be right for a specific project as opposed to having one person make such decisions.

Assignments in the workplace are pretty much unavoidable, but it helps to branch out from standard practices a little. Instead of relying on higher-ups to delegate tasks, or waiting for others to volunteer time, try nominating someone once in a while.  Via 99u

  1. Check The Sound Regularly

Sound checks are necessary for musicians and involve walking to the back of the performance space or up the balcony to get an objective sense of how the group really sounds.

Check the sound
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

For your team, this means stepping out of your role and your personal needs for a minute, and surveying the project as a whole. A sound check means you can be frank: what is the most glaring thing that needs fixing? What would you say to inspire your colleagues to do better? Via 99u

  1. Know The Score

When there’s no conductor to point out changes in the melodic or harmonic structure, each musician must fully understand what other players are doing so they can fully understand what they need to do to enhance the overall performance.

Do you actually know what your colleagues work on all day? Make an effort to learn how the people around you spend their time: what’s their workflow like?… Truly understanding your colleagues’ responsibilities can help you forge new creative alliances with them. Via 99u

  1. Embrace Uncertainty

Because of the immediate, exacting and often emotional nature of music, musician’s self-restraint and passion need to be working at the same time.

We all want to take charge sometimes, but usually we can’t. It’s not our place, or we’re not in a position of power. But that’s okay—we can still take ownership of projects without overstepping professional boundaries. The hardest part comes in accepting this delicate balance, and being comfortable expressing oneself even within the confines of someone else’s vision. Via 99u

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