Teambuilding: it’s an art, not a science

Oct 29th, 2014 | By FCT

How jazz, dance and improvisation fuel ace customer service at IBM, Zappos and more

If you’ve ever watched a small jazz ensemble play, you’ve seen four or five people, silent except for their instruments, listening to one another like crazy. Jazz-Impact, a Minnesota-based jazz improv program and the house band at the Banff Centre’s management program, has used this metaphor for prestigious clients like Starbucks, the Kellogg School of Business, the Mayo Clinic, IBM, Microsoft, Credit Suisse Group and other Fortune 500 companies.

Michael Gold, a former jazz teacher who founded the jazz program at Vassar College and later served as a real estate executive, developed Jazz Impact to help business leaders lead their teams more effectively. In this world, it’s not about ‘management’ but far more about responsive leadership, a much rarer skill.

The results are startling: exposed to really having to listen to how the musicians cue one another and anticipate changes in the music, Gold’s clients find they actually listen better to team thinking, share the results better and, most subtly of all, actually apply the best practices simply because they work instantly.

But you don’t need a sax or a bass to improvise, as Second City’s corporate learning program has proved. Headquartered in Toronto, the same comedy skills made famous by the likes of Dan Aykroyd, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Mike Myers have been shared by over 400 Fortune 500 clients, who learn that ‘learning works when it’s not boring.’ Comedy cuts through facilitation boredom (think: Monty Python John Cleese’s business videos) by crisply packaging team-building ideas that people actually want to use.

All of this is second nature at Zappos, the online shoe company so good at customer relations bought the company for $2bn and didn’t change a thing: the deal was designed to share Zappos’ powerful learning and team-building culture throughout Amazon. Zappos has so mastered team-building through a deep culture of ‘instant solutions’ and superb listening techniques. The company has a thriving online consultancy, Zappos Insights, which shares the principles of the company’s hugely successful ‘culture camps,’ where Zappos’ notion of ‘bottom up’ leadership where teams self-assemble and even self-direct.

Additional Resources

How Toyota used Miles Davis’ jazz thinking to create the Lexus (Harvard Business School series)

Five ways to kill innovation in your company (Harvard Business Review blog)

How the World Bank learns

Categories: EXPERT/ease

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