Sunday, February 10, 2008

Go team!

Several people I know believe that to be able to sing harmony with others you have to get on with them. It is so important to be friends with each other (especially in small harmony ensembles) that they spend a lot of time and effort to set up ‘bonding’ opportunities and ensure that there are plenty of socialising events involving the group.

I have never believed this to be true! My own philosophy is that if you have roughly the same skill levels and interest in producing beautiful music, then you can sing harmony even if you don’t get on with all your fellow singers.

I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme recently about working in teams (Team Spirit). The programme was about business and modern companies like Google and Nokia, but the results apply equally well to other team or group endeavours (they also discussed the Cambridge rowing team). Recent research into team working has shown that the most successful teams have three things in common – everyone in the team is prepared to co-operate; everyone in the team has diverse points of view (and often diverse backgrounds – race, gender, education, class, etc.); and all teams have a mission that is very exciting for them.

It seems from the research that some of our old ideas about teams are wrong. For instance, there are basically two ways to form a team:

  1. start by pulling all the group together and be highly sociable, then move onto the task at hand; or
  2. focus on the task first, get everyone to work together, than socialise.

It turns out that the second approach is more effective. Give the team a really interesting, exciting task and get them to work on it. Choose people on the basis of their capacity to co-operate, not necessarily to be friends or have things in common. Also, co-operation is not a personality trait, it can be learnt. The danger of the first approach is that people may quickly realise how much they don’t like each other!

The upshot of this is that when forming a new singing group, it is not necessary to get together with a bunch of friends, or even people with the same points of view. It’s not even necessary to form a group of people who are able to co-operate (this can be learnt). You need to get a group of people with diverse backgrounds who are really excited about the project (group, style of music, director, performing opportunities, etc.), who have the basic musical/ singing skills required, and who are willing to co-operate (even if they’re not yet very good at it). You will then make beautiful music, and who knows, as a bonus, you may just end up liking each other too!

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