In my work, coaching executive teams, I sometimes use a jazz group as a metaphor for great teamwork.  I am not a jazz musician so all that I say is based on observation, but I have had the joy of watching and listening to talented jazz musicians for many years.  My favourite club is the Verdict in Brighton, where they managed to keep things going through a lock down summer with jazz in the park, playing against the richly painted wall of the club.

In what ways does a jazz group illustrate great teamwork?  A few of the ingredients include:

  • Really talented individuals, who know their music and their instruments and can play exceptionally well. They bring all the energy that comes from the joy of playing.  No more so than when they were unable to play for the public over many months.  Some just turned-up to listen to their friends but brought their own instruments, just to join in for a bit.
  • Shared sense of purpose, which is the fun of making great music together and entertaining and feeding off the energy of those who are listening with them. Of course, they need to earn a living but what I experience is that they love what they are doing, and they want to stretch themselves in doing it well.
  • Listening to and watching one another as they are playing. There is a wonderful mix of being lost in the music, in the moment and finely attuned to where the others are and how the blend is working.  Also looking for how they will unfold things together, sharing the moments of transition to sustain the overall flow.  There is deep trust and no doubt familiarity with one another.
  • Flexibility and openness to respond in the moment.  The agreed tune/score is simply a jumping off point.  Often there is a question of “do you know this one?”  Sometimes they will have a look at it briefly on the smartphone, or at one point, “no, but you start, and I will join in.”  This from a trumpeter who had just brought along his instrument in the hope of joining his friends for a while.  There is the trust and confidence that they will find their way through together.
  • Generosity to each other. As each tune develops the individual musicians will pick up the lead as others step back and then come alongside in support.  These individual flights start and return to the main theme but can digress into whole new areas, with the lead bringing it back and allowing others to pick it up again.  Throughout the set, there is warm acknowledgement and praise of each other.
  • Positive Outcomes for everyone involved. The musicians had the fun of giving expression to their talent together.  The audience were part of an experience that is so much richer than listening to music on a device.  In our more virtually experienced world, it lifts the spirits to be engaged in a real event, which is only there for that moment.  From this flows the commercial and financial transactions that help to sustain the process.  Though of course, this year, that has been all too little for the musicians and the venues.

The lessons for great business teams are obvious.  Teams perform better when they are clear about why they are there, focusing the individual strengths they bring.  They need to trust and respect each other, allowing the best placed person to take a lead and supporting them, following-in alongside.  If they work with a spirit of mutual trust, generosity, and an openness to what is happening between them and with those around them, then they will generate great outcomes for all involved.