5 Things Teams Do to Make Beautiful Music Together

Live music performed well is the ultimate example of team performance in action.

Last weekend we made our annual migration to the Sisters Folk Festival, a phenomenal event in our home community showcasing singers from around the world sharing their talents with us in a variety of venues. Music moves me and reminds me of what coming together to accomplish the phenomenal really means. Inspired by these artists, here are my top 5 things you can do at work to move your group from barely getting by to achieving the phenomenal together

1. Listen first

Great musicians watch and listen to one another acutely. As they start to play, someone goes first, and the others fill in behind based on what they hear and what is needed. When someone decides to do a riff, or change a scale, the others are literally “tuned in” to catch it and respond accordingly. In the teams you work with, are you listening to the others? Do you listen first to try to understand? Or, are you so busy with your own work that you fail to notice the others at all? On stage, that is called noise, not music, and at work noise abounds.

2. Know your part

Amidst the inspiring magic that is music, are musicians who have practiced tirelessly to make just that rhythm, sound, and timber in just that way. Each voice, each instrument has a specific contribution to the whole that is, in fact, the point. In your team, are you crystal clear on what your part is? Do you know what it takes to give your highest and best performance to the team? Are you self-aware enough to know what greatness looks like and how you can deliver it over and over again to your team?

3. Be vulnerable and imperfect

One of the singers we heard wanted to sing a new song for us, and used her iPhone to help with the words. Her risk-taking in trying something new was visible and obvious, and the result was magical. Putting yourself out there with your sound, your voice, your ideas, requires an awareness that it may not be perfect, but will still be right. If musicians never risk, the music never comes. If team members never risk, teams stay predictable, static, and slow. What is scary for you to say to your team members? What ideas do you have that you hold back from sharing? What might happen if you jump in and take the risk with your team before you have it all perfectly worked out?

4. Have a plan

Musicians on stage invariably have a song list they follow, that little slip of paper they tuck under a drum or in their pocket that reminds them what the plan is for the set. The band knows the plan, and has rehearsed the flow in order to be ready to perform it beautifully when the time comes. The clarity of a song list and a rehearsed part ensures success in the heat of the stage lights. Does your team have clarity on why it exists? Do you each know what the outcomes are and the timing? Can every member tell you on any given day how progress is going?

5. Go off plan

Some of the best performances this weekend were the ones that were not planned…two young songwriters unexpectedly joining a seasoned expert; a musician used a violin to pick instead of a mandolin when his broke; the audience was asked to sing the refrain unexpectedly and created a magnificent harmony which the lead singer moved against. Are you willing to vary from the plan with your team when something comes up? Can you discard your solid plan when it doesn’t work, and be nimble and responsive in the moment?


At some point in our lives, most of us are fortunate enough to experience what true team cohesion feels like, and yet thinking deeply about the part we play in making this happen is often relegated to off-time and accidental reflection. Take time to listen to the music. Notice how talented artists can come together to create the ultimate synergistic lift and cohesion. Identify your part, and the many other parts that align to create powerful teams that can achieve the phenomenal.


For inspiration, here’s one of the young bands that inspired me this weekend. Rock On.

Darlingside: Open Door

Jim Morris