Team players

Writing about my love of playing music seems like an indulgence. By the time you get to the end of this piece you may know whether it’s self indulgent or not.

I try to write about things that interest me from a professional perspective, about leadership, and about how teams work. I worry, sometimes, that much of the literature is written in very academic language, and doesn’t provide accessible examples.

So, with those explanations out of the way, on with the music.

Every Tuesday night this autumn I’ve driven to the Sage in Gateshead, and with a dozen or so others, played folk rock for ninety minutes. We’re a mixed group; voice, guitars, mandolins, bouzouki, flute, fiddle, bass and drums. Our tutor / accomplice in making music is an expert, the excellent @NilesKrieger, but the onus is on us to come together as a group.

Now, watching groups become teams is fascinating. There are some teams where there’s unanimity on the role of each player, but a folk rock band isn’t like that, especially when you have players, like me, who are feeling their way into a new genre or role. We are making it up as we go along, improvising being a band even as we follow the sheet music.

Music can be a great tool for teaching the need for different roles while pursuing a goal. I can’t sing soprano, for instance (actually, I can barely sing at all) so that’s not my place in the band. I’m not a great soloist either, especially on tunes I have never heard before. The band needs soloists and singers, but I’m not them.

That’s fine by me, by the way. I’ve decided my role in the band is to provide a backwash and backbeat to the overall sound. The soloists and the melody players focus on the tunes that will sit in your head and have you whistling them as you go out the door. I’m happy to sit back and try for the textures and chords that support the whole piece. You notice I say try; I’m by no means there yet, but little tweaks, experiments with tunings and different chord voicings, are giving me confidence and making me smile.

Is this relevant to your workplace? Ask yourself what your workplace would be like if all you had was soloists, and the drums or the bass was missing. Imagine if all you had was fourteen voices striving to say the same thing in unison. Does that sound like the best team you can be?

I tried this idea out on a friend and they flipped it through one hundred and eighty degrees. What did my choices about the musician I want to be say about me, and were the choices congruent with who I am? I hope so, but they were right to ask. It’s not about a lack of confidence or social skills; I don’t sit back when it comes to time to argue about song choices or arrangements, but when I play, I have a clear picture of where I want to be in the mix.

Next time you’re in a group environment, ask yourself. Am I the lead singer, or the backbeat, the colour and the context for the beauty and the style? If you think being one is preferable to another, what does that say about you, and the person you need to be?

I joined the group I’m playing with now because I needed to feel I’m in a band who work together. There’s only so much fun you can have on the sofa, even if you’re never alone with a good guitar. Testing out ideas for song structures or arrangements is as much fun for me as a perfect solo or finding that setting on the amp that gives me the sound that I think is perfect in the back of a song like Walk Awhile by Fairport Convention or Bold Sir Rylas by Spiers and Boden.

What it says about me that I want the group to be as good as it can be more than I want to be a perfect soloist is something I’m happy to take back into the workplace. Asking yourself who you would be in a band, and what you’d do, may be a useful tool to understand your preferred style of working, your true north.

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