The Band Plays On: Crafting an Effective Team from the Ground Up


I recently went on a trip to Nashville with friends. If you’ve never been there—you need to go. The street bars were lined up with talented musicians doing what they love: singing, playing an instrument, entertaining, laughing. It was a great time, but the most striking aspect was the incredible teamwork displayed by each band. Yes, I am a geeky leadership and team junkie and I think about leadership all day long!

From the looks of it, most of these bands were put together on the fly. Oftentimes, the band would meet each other for the first time that night, right before they were going on to play. It was incredible to hear music orchestrated so beautifully when the band members didn’t even know each other. So, how did those musicians perform so seamlessly?

First, let’s begin by considering why a team (in this case, the band) exists in the first place. What is the charter behind this band? What do they need to accomplish together? For each band member to play his or her part to the fullest, the endgame of the band must be clearly defined and outlined. The band members know they need to produce the best sound in order to grab the attention of their audience. After all, they want to make it big someday—right? They communicate a clear, effective game plan. In doing so, each band member knows to perform the right music, for the same song, from an agreed upon set list. This clarity of vision allows band members to hone in on their individual duties, bolstering the band as a whole by plugging into their respective piece of the puzzle.

The band performing in Nashville came together in a flash, but many bands perform together over and over, as a team. To prepare for gigs, develop their sound, and write new songs, bands come together for rehearsals. But to write a hit, or at least practice for their next show, the agenda of the rehearsal must be clear to every musician involved. Is the rehearsal unfocused? Has progress been made by its conclusion or debrief? Collaboration among band members requires the ability to communicate, to critique each other constructively—all to produce a pleasing, harmonious sound. If a band wants to make it big, it’s probably a good idea to rehearse regularly, and to figure out ways to use their time to the fullest, further honing in on their goals together. Perhaps there’s a certain highly-respected venue in town they’re hoping to play, or they have a goal of recording an album by the end of the year. Without making specific and concrete goals, there’s no long-term vision to the band, no big-picture aspirations for which to aim.

Teams in the workplace function a lot like the Nashville bands. Meetings, action plans, and performance reviews may seem relegated to the corporate world, but a good band applies similar techniques to get results. While all these questions and adjustments require a great deal of reflection, analysis, and action planning—not to mention leadership—these steps are what separate run-of-the-mill bands from rock stars. On that Nashville stage, each musician knew exactly what role he or she played, in exactly which song, and how best to lend their voice or instrument to the greater composition. With proper common ground and clarity, the old saying stands true, no matter the type of team: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.