Organizational theorists are beginning to recognize the value of improvisation in leadership skills for people who work in teams. They are now looking to jazz to inspire continuous learning and to align diverse talents in order to reach a common goal.
Monty Alexander, a jazz pianist, wrote one of my favorite descriptions of jazz I have ever seen. Jazz, at its best, is a group of people who are willing to support one another to work together as one, with each player contributing virtuosity and optimism, mutual respect, goodwill, and the desire for it to feel good. Alexander describes six essential components of a successful team: 1) willingness support; 2) optimism; 3) mutual respect; 5) goodness will; and 6) making the game feel good. Let’s look closer at each of these essentials.
1. Willing to Support
Team members need to feel valued for their strengths and passions in order to be open to contributing. It is not always easy to find the right match, but it will pay huge dividends to think about ways to attract support and align talents with tasks. If people enjoy what they do, their creativity and capacity flow more quickly and smoothly.
It is vital that team members have the resources and opportunities to learn and improve their skills. This learning can be done best on the job when faced with the difficulties that come up while working together. However, such knowledge must be valued and a part of the work together. Leaders are another form of virtuosity that is required for great teams. Leaders must be able and able to work with others, not encourage others to over-function.
Complexity and changes can lead to confusion and frustration. It is easy for team members to get caught up in negativity and create a cycle of complaint and criticism. By focusing attention at the beginning of a project only on the benefits and potential advantages, you can keep your attention on the positive potential of the team’s efforts. This will help to set the context for the challenges that may arise. A positive outlook can help you see the negatives as obstacles to overcome rather than reality to be faced.
4. Mutual Respect
Trust is the key ingredient to great teams. Mutual respect is the cornerstone of trust. Trust is built by respecting colleagues and the quality of our conversations. Mutual respect and trust can be created by listening attentively, being open to hearing others, and having empathy for their needs. Teams thrive when there is genuine dialogue and not a constant discussion or contentious discussions. The former encourages innovation and new ideas to be generated around the core values of the team. These keep team members locked in their own defenses.
It is essential to take the time to understand what your team values in common. This will help you create a positive environment that encourages exceptional effort. Human performance researchers, like those at the Human Performance Institute, have found that having strong core values and purpose is crucial for sustaining efforts to achieve desired results. Team members are motivated to do their best to help others and to go above and beyond to improve the world.
6. Make It Feel Good
You will have learned that great teamwork is linked to great jazz. It is about making it feel good. This is about creating a memorable performance, both individually and collectively, and finding joy and delight in the music. Maya Angelou has a powerful quote that sums up the importance of jazz and teamwork. People will forget what your words are, people will forget about what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. Great things are achieved by teams that make people feel good.
You must think of yourself as an artist, someone who is involved in creating something instructive and inspiring. Jazz is an American art form that comes from the entrepreneurial drive to make the best of difficult situations while having fun. Although it sounds idealistic, it works. Give it a shot. It’s the only way to find out if it works for you.