What Can Music Teach Business Professionals?

Article written for Go Canada, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Czech Republic

In the era of globalization, communication is of the highest priority for successful management, and this will remain so in the future. We seek to understand the qualities of teamwork and to identify all available resources in order to enhance communication in our workplaces as well as in our personal lives.

Executives and musicians face similar issues when working in teams, dealing with change, seeking to achieve performance value and competing to succeed. The world of music provides many examples of people working together to create great things. Music can thus be seen as an appropriate metaphor for our understanding of leadership and teamwork.

Throughout my career as a musician, from early childhood on, playing together with other musicians was the most natural thing to me. My first collaboration was with my sister, a pianist three years older than me. My first lesson was to understand that I was not the leader and my sister an obedient accompanist, but that we were equals working together to perform our very best for our teachers, family and friends. We had to learn how to match our tone and our ideas, and at the same time be able to lead or quickly switch to accompany the other.

One of the first essential things one has to learn as a musician is good manners: when one player gets lost, the others have to stop to give him or her immediate support so that they can continue together, not just carry on because they know where they are with their own parts.

To this day, these first lessons have guided all my further collaborations with other musicians, whether I play together with my pianist or guitar player or within a larger ensemble.

When a music group starts to work, the initial A is played at the beginning to “tune in” the ensemble/ team. It expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. In giving the A, “the tone”, the manager and the employees become a team tuned to accomplish the extraordinary.

In a musical team, each member knows his or her part; they are all highly trained in their respective skills, and they are responsible for delivering their best. You must know what your role is, and how you fit in within the whole structure. Flexibility is required as there may be various situations generating a need to improvise, to help a colleague, to restart and play on. Depending on the music score (or business plan) you have to be ready at any time to take over leadership, pass it on or share it collaboratively. It is a constant give-and-take situation. Working together extensively, people in a group learn one another’s moves, and this shared learning creates a platform which produces a successful team.