Teamwork is tricky. Even when you have the right people on the team, you deal with different personalities, styles and competencies. With this in mind, how can teams succeed? The answer can be found in jazz music.
As I was reflecting on this question, I was reminded of my time playing jazz music. From a young age my parents had me involved in music. Quickly, I found that I enjoyed playing jazz music. There was something exhilarating about the creativity and collaboration on the jazz “team” that encouraged me. Jazz music taught me much about playing on a team of people.
Here are some of the teamwork lessons I learned from my time playing jazz music:
1. A common goal
The best teams focus on their common goal, not their individual needs/wants. They filter everything through the goal of the organization. The same is true for jazz musicians. There is a common goal of playing the song with excellence or putting on an amazing show.
Jonathan Morales, explains “They [Jazz musicians] blend multiple personalities and talents to service a common goal, and have to manage several opposing creative tensions, including tradition and innovation, soloing and accompanying, and playing tight and playing loose. They build on a core set of fundamentals, and members know precisely the right times at which to take risks.”
When each team member works hard to serve the common goal, they will have exponential success.
2. Always listening to what others are doing
“You have to listen!” is a phrase that I heard often as a young jazz musician. It is easy to be in your own world, to be focused on yourself–your upcoming solo, your next drum fill. But this doesn’t help create beautiful music. If everyone is focused on themselves, the overall music suffers. However, jazz groups that focus on listening will be the most successful.
Jazz Impact, who focuses on bringing jazz principles to business, says “To listen in the moment means to listen empathically— to suspend assumptions and judgments that are rooted in our past experience so we can hear what we don’t yet understand.”
We can learn from team members that have different ideas. Maybe they have a different way to look at a project, or have a creative out-of-the-box idea to take the group to a new level. When we listen with an open ear, we are more able to see from their prospective–which may turn out to be a better prospective.
3. Seeking to make each other stand out
One of my favorite things about jazz is the willingness to make others stand out. Jazz music is known for solos, however, in order for the solo to stand out the other band members must accompany in a way that compliments the soloist. Wynton Marsalis, a famous artist and composer stated that when someone is soloing “you can create more freedom by sacrificing your own.”
This is good advice to a team. If your team focuses on the other team members, supporting them, they will be more successful in the end. There are times that someone else in your group needs to stand out and you need to stand down.
4. Innovation with feedback
Jazz players are willing to be innovated in their approach to a given piece of music. Yes, there are rules for innovation, but they are willing to take risks. “In the jazz ensemble we are constantly faced with the risk of innovation, of having to come up with our own musical ideas in real time and in collaboration with each other” says Jazz Impact.
Yet, Jazz players are willing to tell each other when something is just not working. I was recently watching an interview with Snarky Puppy, an instrumental fusion band. The band members are more than willing to tell each other they sucked that evening. This is not because they want to put down their other members, they know that their members are better than they played, and they should strive for excellence.
In the same way, teams should be willing to innovate with the filter of their own team. Teams are an excellent place to run ideas past, to catch errors or flaws in our plans. We need people around us to tell us that our ideas are silly and should be reconsidered.