Team Building Lessons from Rock Music

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By Juli Sherry

The power of music for teamwork is an untapped tool in today’s market.

Thus far in dMBA I have learned that to be sustainable, a company must continue to innovate by learning, growing and evolving in our ever-changing world. To start on this path, it must build teams that communicate, collaborate and foster a culture of creativity.

I have spent years playing bass guitar in local bands in Chicago. What I have learned from making music is how to generate new ideas collaboratively with a group of creative individuals. When my first band started, we were a group of musicians with a simple goal in common: to write good songs together. Our first rehearsal in the singer’s basement was a rough, noisy mess, but with each consecutive rehearsal we got better as musicians and as collaborators.

One day I was working on a song with my guitarist and had the idea of switching to a different chord. Just by glancing at him, he realized I had a new idea and followed me to the chord I was playing. Our communication process became this efficient within only a month of meeting and rehearsing together. With more experienced musicians (than we were at the time) this level of collaboration can happen instantaneously.

On top of that, we developed a process of collaborative songwriting by bringing a short “riff” to the group, expanding on it, critiquing it, trying to play it with new rhythms et cetera, and narrowing it down to the final song. Each time the band went through this process we grew together as a team. It eventually took us from playing 100 person venues to 1200 person venues – our measurement of our success. This is creative team collaboration at work.

Just as our band learned tools to collaborate and communicate there is room for business innovation teams to learn new ways to generate ideas and solutions to business problems. Musical training may be something to think about in this context.

Like any creative process, “[With music] Success is in the doing,” says Ian Mackaye of Fugazi. It helps us, “Have the courage to be in the moment,” according to Herbie Hancock—both major themes of collaborative innovation.

“You can’t stay the same. If you’re a musician and a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works.” says Van Morrison. Looking at problems in a new light and changing our own outlooks can also be game changers in problem solving according to what I have learned from reading “Designing for Growth” I read in my innovation course in dMBA. DFG has an entire chapter on brainstorming in which they discuss how brainstorms will de-risk a growth project in a business because, “You can’t have innovation without new ideas”. According to DFG, adding people with musical experiences who are already adept in changing their viewpoints can add great value to the brainstorming process which thrives by “incorporating new people, new perspectives and new stimuli”.

To think about the application of musical training to innovation even deeper, Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature paper and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, explained in a statement to the media, “…actively working with musical sounds enhances neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change. ‘A musician’s brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound. In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean.”

Musical training can have a profound impact on the way individuals think by creating new neural connections that can lead to becoming more agile addressing complex business problems. With access to music training, teams could gain a tool to brainstorm and think differently.

How do we use the benefits of music to build better teams in the workplace and to foster an innovative culture to move business forward? How can we harness this easy way to spark new ideas? How can we get businesses to adopt strategies of music?

On first read through these questions, my immediate response would be to hire more musicians to work on innovation teams, but I think that on a deeper level, by providing existing teams access to music lessons, their new musical tools may flower into some truly innovative solutions down the road. At large companies like Google there are lists of fringe benefits like on-site oil changes and car wash services, dry cleaning, hair styling, fitness classes and bike repair. Many of these don’t seem to have much impact on innovation like music does. Why not add a guitar or violin class to this list? The power of music for teamwork is an untapped tool in today’s market.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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