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How Jazz Bands Might Have The Winning Concept For Business Teams

Sitting on the train from Vienna to Prague, I feel empowered and amazed. I love Vienna. It's a city I enjoy visiting, a city I consider home, having lived there as a child for five happy years.

The reason for my current amazement were two concerts I attended in Vienna this weekend with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra from New York. I like listening to jazz, but cannot claim to being a big jazz connoisseur. The title of one of the concerts however intrigued me to embark on this weekend concert getaway: ‘What is Jazz?’.

As a fan of educational concerts I was curious. Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Young People’s Concerts’ inspired me to investigate and explore the concept of transferring skills from one discipline to another. The result was Music & Leadership, later rebranded to ConductVision.

Jazz is one of the topics in ConductVision’s team building training program. Recently we’ve re-crafted it to Jazz Up Your Team’s Potential. There was a reason for this. The developments and challenges brought on by the pandemic have changed the workforce landscape. Trainings in human skills need to reflect these changes.

Hence my curiosity to see a jazz concert performed by some of the best jazz musicians. Both concerts were superb. Musicianship at its very best. What intrigued me were the behaviours and communication skills between the players. I identified over 20 behaviours and skills that made the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra a great team delivering an outstanding performance.

Here are the top 10.

1. Great leadership is invisible

Wynton Marsalis, the leader of the JLCO, sat at the back among the players. He was in no way physically detached from the orchestra. Looking at the orchestra he was just one of the players. What identified him as a leader was that he was the one who spoke about the music, introduced the main players before each song, and after the song finished, gave open praise to those players. During the concert all the applause went to individuals members of the orchestra after a successful solo, and to the whole orchestra. Marsalis did not ask for any applause for himself. You didn't see his leadership. You felt it.

2. They observe what others are doing

During the performance it was amazing to see how members looked at each other, paid attention to how their colleagues were playing, supporting them with their gaze and applauding together with the public after a played solo. A great example of passing to each other the joy of music and music-making.

3. Recognition and praise is immediate

The speed of recognition and praise was unbelievable. You felt it was an inherent part of their behaviour and communication. You do a good job and your colleagues react from the heart, not because they were told to.

4. Humbleness

Wynton Marsalis is considered today as the leading jazzman of our time. The other members are also famous jazz players, recognised as masters of their craft. You can’t get anywhere higher. Their behaviour, towards each other, towards the public was that of humbleness. You could see how grateful they were to be able to do what they love and share it with others.

5. History and legacy

Marsalis told stories about past orchestra members, teachers, mentors and other musical inspirations. Building on those before them, made them great musicians ready to take their own paths and carry the orchestra's spirit and legacy.

6. Not afraid to show their emotions

Smiling, laughing, focused, committed. Openly showing their emotion led to a greater bond developing between the players. They should an openness we only find with children. Difficult for me to say as member of the audience, but I believe that this mindset helped to overcome possible challenges along the way.

7. Leading and following passes on at lightening speed

I was amazed at the speed leading and following shifted between the players. It was seamless and completely natural. The players constantly switched roles with remarkable ease. Switching leadership roles is a known jazz trait, but the way the players did it, confidently, disciplined and relaxed, was astonishing. One felt that it was completely irrelevant who leads and who follows. Every individual shines in a team that jointly leads the effort.

8. Dress code

In one of my previous jobs as manager of a customer service department there was big discussion about dress code. The prevailing idea was that people should dress freely as they would like to, that they feel more empowered and appreciated if they do so. I had different ideas about it, but corporate policy decided differently.

The JLCO were dressed in smart uniformed black suits, male and female members alike. This surprised me as this dress code seemed more classical than jazzy. What struck me was that with this formal dress code they expressed a visual unity. But this unity did not hinder individual personalities to shine and express themselves. They expressed themselves through their work, not through external representations.

9. They applaud the public

At the end of the concert, the orchestra applauded the public. This was a wonderful show of appreciation for the people who bought the ticket and came to listen.

10. Leadership - adding a bit of that something

At the end of the concert, I asked myself, what is leadership. That evening I witnessed ‘invisible’ leadership, a leader who silently led the orchestra. I can pinpoint here a number of leadership skills that I believe led to this brilliant leadership but then it occurred to me that sometimes great leadership is just when that something special is added. And that was what I witnessed that evening.

A few more takeaways…

‘Jazz is nothing else but communication’.

This wonderful sentence was expressed towards the end of the concert. Very true, but isn’t this actually true for businesses too? Do we consciously work, develop our businesses with this in mind?

‘To have the freedom to be different and celebrate that freedom together as a team.’

This is the definition of how a jazz player sees his/her profession. What a great way for us from different fields and professions to look at ourselves in a similar way.

In the era of a pandemic and hopefully now post-pandemic world, we face many personal and professional challenges. We need inspiration. We may find it in places we least expect. The behaviours and skills above are, in our findings at ConductVision, key today in moving forward.

These musicians did not come from another planet. They were also in lockdown, and like most people from the performing arts world, suffered more than most industries where home office was an option and their livelihood not endangered. They showed however how to deal with challenges, reinvent themselves and move forward.

If you find this article interesting, feel free to contact me and we can talk about how learnings from jazz and other music teams can benefit your organisation.


Founder of ConductVision


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