This post is part of a series on VUCA – The Challenges of a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous World.
VUCA is a practical code for awareness and readiness defining a set of conditions in which decisions are made. Complexity describes the multiple forces, confounding of issues and the chaos that can surround any organisation.
How Chaotic is Your Day?
A manufacturing company is made up of many divisions. Production, design, finance, marketing, sales and human resources. It faces all the obvious logistical challenges before the product even ships. And within that company, leading even a small team of skilled and ambitious employees means assessing, managing and facilitating, the work of a diverse group of individuals. The challenge for most managers, executives and leaders is simple: how to get the best out of those people, especially in the midst of complex and often chaotic circumstances.
The Complexity of Classical Music
Yet there’s little as complex as the live performance of classical music. We think of an orchestra as a group with individual parts. However, the melody itself can also be shared among various instruments, with counter melodies and other harmonies made up of many other simultaneous lines of music. And it’s the conductor’s role to interpret the music, lead the performance and bring the best out of the musicians. As well as engaging the audience sitting only metres away.
A full-scale orchestra playing a symphony can include at least 90 musicians, divided into sections, such as string, wind or percussion. It could have two or three violins within that section. There might be one or two flutes, clarinets, and oboes, as well as trumpets, trombones, a tuba and french horn. It could also have as many as five percussionists playing more than one instrument each depending on the demands of the score. In fact, one of our Partners, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, recently toured the US with 82 musicians, which amounted to 1,932 kg of luggage transported in a 90-foot truck.
Compare this with most modern bands. They may have just five or six musicians including vocalists. The most successful bands are made up of just four – take U2 or Coldplay. And whilst there is incredible skill and astonishing beauty in creating endless melodies with just this small number of musicians, the complexity in performing a piece of classical music is a feat of leadership and collaboration all of its own.
What Can Classical Music Teach Us About the Complexity of a Challenging Workplace?
Its starting point is the score. The music as it is written. It sets the boundaries. It reminds everyone of their purpose in performing and draws them back each time to the part they play in the collective performance.
Every company, every team, every project, needs a score. It’s not the why or the how but the what of performance. It answers the question, what are we here to do and what is my part in that?
Its compass or guide is the conductor. The conductor sets the direction for the performance, the style and tone of the piece, and keeps everyone attuned to that purpose. Neither too withdrawn or too heavy-handed, the conductor guides the orchestra through the score from start to finish.
Good leadership is rarely accomplished from afar or by those who micro-manage their people. However, successful leaders pay attention to the details without being thrown off-course, recognising the giftedness of their team. They are consistent in their interpretation of the score and if they get the best out of their team they achieve something really special.
Its energy – its ability to accomplish something – is in its people. An orchestra is made-up of highly skilled individuals at the very top of their class. They apply their expertise within a specific score, led by a gifted conductor. Together they can produce a powerful performance through a very complicated but perhaps familiar piece of music.
Each person within the team excels at one particular thing, one particular instrument. And each instrument takes its turn within that piece of music. On their own, very few of their performances would amount to very much. However, working together they produce something very different.
It Takes Collaboration to Make Complexity Work
Without the score, the conductor, or the orchestra working together, it would be impossible to take the complexity of a piece of classical music, and produce something that can move people the way that music does.
Whatever complex situation or organisation you find yourself in, the metaphor of music is a powerful one. But it’s not just a metaphor. Being part of a performance for yourself can be an inspiring experience. It can become a catalyst for change. It can engage you and your team in a way that your typical training day can’t.