Frank Barrett is one of the most knowledgeable teachers when it comes to jazz and team success. He was a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, holds a doctorate on organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University, and teaches at the School of Human and Organization Development of Fielding Graduate University.
Barrett identified seven vital elements to success for teams that are constantly having to adapt in the face of uncertainty, change, and crisis. This is how the business operates today. These are the seven elements that team success requires for teams to be responsible, adaptable, agile, and successful.
1. Provocative Competence
Teams that succeed encourage their members to challenge the process and break down old patterns of behavior that are not delivering the desired results. This disruption encourages new perspectives, new knowledge, as well as new skills that will help achieve the common goals. This kind of competence is essential for the team to grow and improve. Jazz musicians constantly try new ways to see and do things with the core melody that they play together. This is key to innovation.
2. The source of learning from errors
The fact that mistakes can be a source of new understanding and meaning is something that successful teams recognize. It is essential to learn from mistakes and develop team resilience. This will help you deal with the increasing number of crises and stresses in the workplace. It is a waste of time and energy to correct others and anger, which could be used for learning and improvement. Cannonball Adderley, a saxophonist, once stated, “There are no mistakes in jazz, only opportunities for learning.”
3. Minimal Structures and Shared Orientation
Teams that succeed create clear yet concise charts or scenarios that allow members to express their individual talents while working together towards a common goal. Couples are attracted to making strategic plans that look like symphony orchestra scores. This leaves little room for creativity and individual talent. Jazz musicians rely on their fellow musicians to deliver compelling performances within a limited melody line.
4. Distributed Tasks
Teams that succeed engage in constant negotiation and dialogue to achieve synchronization and alignment between all members. They are able to identify the strengths and interests of each member of their team. They plan their work to maximize those strengths and distribute the work to those who are most qualified. Duke Ellington, a jazz legend, regarded his entire orchestra as his instrument. As a leader, his job was to find the true talent of each musician and arrange music to bring those talents to life.
5. Reliance on Retrospective Sensibility-Making
To open up new possibilities and opportunities, successful teams encourage members to reflect upon their past experiences. They constantly review the stories that are important to them and create new understandings for the future. Jazz musicians often review their performances in order to find new ways of interpreting the music. They are always open to new ways to please their audience and themselves.
6. Hanging out
Teams that succeed enjoy getting together. They view themselves as a community that can practice mutual learning through their interactions and acts. Jazz musicians are often simply there to jam and to share ideas and possibilities with one another. It is an unrepressible inner drive that gives deep pleasure.
7. Take turns
Teams that successfully align their work and allow for co-workers to alternate between supporting and soloing create a schedule. Charlie Parker spoke about the three elements of great music: melody, harmony, rhythm. Each aspect of outstanding performance is essential. Every musician in a jazz band takes turns supporting the soloist by providing supportive harmonies or rhythms.
Your team can be viewed as a jazz band, which opens up new avenues for a conversation about success and how to improve the contributions of your team to your organization.
Remember that jazz is improvisation, but the conversation is the most common form. All jazz musicians are one. Enjoy the teamwork!
Barrett’s thoughts are more detailed in F.J. Barrett, “Creativity and Improvisation in Jazz and Organizations,” Organization Science, 9 (1998) 5-605-622.