The Enliven! Blog

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Pianists, collaboration and organizational improvement

The world of classical music is undergoing a transformation that has spin-off value for organizations which are trying to improve.

The musical transformation involves the art of “collaboration”. Collaboration refers to the interaction between musicians, for example, between pianists and the singers they play for. In the past, the term for the pianist was “accompanist”, and the singer was the “soloist”. The new term for the two individuals is “collaborating artists”.

Is this just so much artsy jargon? Indeed no. This change of words is built on a much deeper shift involving roles, relationships, reaching out and results. This shift is instructive to organizations as well.

Introducing the concept of collaboration changes the roles of the two musical parties. In the past, the pianist tended to be treated as a second class citizen. His or her job was to be in the background, to be subservient to the singer. The singer received the majority of the applause. The accompanist might hesitate in offering musical input when preparing the performance, since their role was not given equal weight. Pianists were often not treated with due respect, e.g. not being given their musical parts sufficiently in advance. In a collaborative setting, both parties are equal partners, worthy of equal respect, and equally invited to creatively invest themselves in solving musical problems

Introducing collaboration also changes the relationship between the two roles. Once the two parties are established on equal footing, each with ideas to contribute for mutual consideration, a new level of teamwork and camaraderie begins to develop. The joint contribution of the spirited two is greater than the sum of the parts.

The introduction of collaboration as a role and a relationship, for example between music students, also serves as a model for the music department where the students are being taught. If students are being coached to collaborate, why would professors not reach out over the walls of their particular specialties to make cross-disciplinary contributions? Does it not stand to reason that collaborative collegial critiques would sharpen and deepen the educational process? For example, maybe the music theory teacher has some insights for the music history teacher, and vice versa!

The result of a thorough collaborative approach is a well rounded student. Students are empowered by an increased breadth of skill and understanding. Their learning takes on enhanced relevance as they sense they are being prepared for the real world, where soft skills like collaboration can make all the difference in working with people and capitalizing on opportunities. The transformation of relationships, roles and efforts paves the way for successful endeavors.

And how does collaboration relate to organizations? An organization seeking to improve will establish true collaboration among its personnel. Regardless of rank, persons will be seen as having ownership of the organization and a vested interest in excellence. A collaborative spirit will encourage each person to give of their best, while supporting the best of others. Persons, led by the leaders, will let down the walls of their departmental silos which so easily get built up to protect individual’s sense of value, in order to create more value for the organization as a whole.

Good questions for an organization to ask might be: “Where in our organization do we have truly collaborative relationships? Where are we encouraging some people to play subsidiary roles, falsely devaluing their own contribution to make a few people into stars? How can cross fertilization help us to achieved our mission? Where do we need to create a climate of trust so that it is acceptable to reach out into the domains of others in the organization?”

A good question for a leader to ask is “Am I truly encouraging collaboration, or do I want people to be ‘yes-men’?”

Collaboration = roles, relationships, reaching out >>> results!

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