CORPORATE CULTURE WITH CHOIR & ESPRIT DE CORPS

BLUE WATER SHIPPING (shipping company)
TEAMBUILDING & BRANDING Jørn Bøllund, HR director, Blue Water Shipping
Torben Eskildsen, singer and conductor (Team Singing)

Blue Water Shipping held a reception to inaugurate their new premises in Esbjerg Port. All 70 members of staff were to entertain the guests.
Jørn Bøllund: “We wanted to do something slightly different. So we contacted Torben Eskildsen and agreed a meeting, to discuss how we could make it happen. Torben and I then took some well-known tunes and wrote new lyrics that referred to the company and our work.”

THE ACTIVITY
Jørn Bøllund: ”On the day, a pianist sat and played in the background while the guests were greeted by members of staff. It was agreed that at a given signal we would all say ‘Just a moment. I’ll be right back …’ and leave our guests.
We stood on the big staircase that ran up to the first floor – and then Torben entered in his role as conductor, radiating unbelievable enthusiasm. The pianist started to play, and we sang our hearts out. We performed four songs – including a rap! The audience applauded enthusiastically, and then, whistling, we descended the stairs to rejoin our guests. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes.”
Torben Eskildsen: “Working with the HR director was great – he’s a very good lyricist! It was interesting for me to work alongside a writer from the company. I could have worked with somebody else, but the end result would not have been so relevant. Everybody in the company knows that Jørn Bøllund is a good copywriter, but nobody
knew that he could also write song lyrics. Jørn was really fond of our ‘joker’ – the rap song. So he wrote some lyrics, and I arranged a four-part backing, which was highly impressive when performed in the big room. All
of the company trainees stood on the first step wearing baseball caps, and each had their own solo rap. It was fantastic for them to be new to the company and suddenly find themselves in the spotlight!
The event brought together the whole company, from the receptionist to the caretaker, from shipping staff to office workers. Everybody in the Esbjerg office took part. There are five directors at Blue Water Shipping, and they all led from the front.”

EXPERIENCE & EFFECT
Jørn Bøllund: ”First and foremost, I am sure that the guests will never forget it, because it was so different from the norm. It gave a clear signal that this is not just cold, hard business, but a workplace with room for a sense of community and culture.
It was a huge experience for the staff too. The fun thing is that when we told them we were to have a rehearsal because we would be singing for our guests, some of the staff said ‘Sing?! Me sing? No way! I’m not coming! Don’t wait for me! I won’t be singing! I’m tone deaf – I’ll just stand and mime!’ So at first we weren’t sure whether this was a bad idea – what if people just didn’t want to do it?
But at the rehearsal, we found that those who had shouted the loudest about not wanting to take part suddenly started to sing. We all sang together, and
everybody enjoyed it – and the more we sang, the more fun we had, and the more people got excited about the next day’s event. It was funny that the idea was received so coolly at first – and then the reservations turned to total surrender.”

WHY ARTISTS?
Torben Eskildsen and the songs enabled us to get to know some other sides of our staff. Esprit de corps is a good phrase, but how do you generate it? You do it by having a positive attitude to your colleagues, by knowing their background, by being a bit interested in them as a person. Singing together opens people up and creates a positive atmosphere.
We purchased a piano that now stands permanently in our big room – and every so often we get youngest students from the West Jutland Academy of Music to play for us. One consequence of the project is that we have developed a good partnership with them.”
“We all sang together, and everybody enjoyed it – and the more we sang, the more fun we had, and the more people got excited about the next day’s event. It was funny that the idea was received so coolly at first – and then the reservations turned to total surrender.” (Quote: Jørn Bøllund)

Case Study from ArtLab Denmark

AN INNOVATIVE EXPERIENTIAL LEADERSHIP SESSION: THE MUSIC PARADIGM

Medical Group Management Association (leading association for medical practice executives and leaders)
PEER Conference
Roger Nierenberg – Conductor, Music Paradigm
By Adrian Segar – Conferences that Work

An opening session created by Roger Nierenberg of The Music Paradigm. Roger, Music Director of the Stamford Symphony Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world, uses a semi-impromptu exploration of the work of an orchestral conductor to illustrate a host of lessons about leadership.

When we entered the large performance room, we found, not the traditional orchestral layout, but clumps of professional orchestra players scattered amongst our seats. During the session we sat “inside” the orchestra, experiencing Roger and the other musicians as the orchestra did, rather than as audience members.

Roger started by telling us that many of the professional musicians present had not worked with him before that morning and that the session was not scripted, and he asked players and audience to be honest with their comments and responses.

Roger then conducted a ten-minute piece of orchestral music that was to be our musical touchstone for the session. During the remainder of the session, various excerpts from this piece were repeated, preceded with Roger’s instructions and followed by solicited observations from audience & orchestra members and Roger’s commentary.

Random audience members and musicians were asked for their honest responses and observations after each musical experiment; the session was in no way canned, and, being experiential, a written account obviously cannot do it justice. However, I’m sharing my notes in order to give a sense of the powerful learning a session like this can provide. I’ve italicized Roger’s words:

Roger compared his role as an orchestra conductor to the paradigm of leadership, to the work of leading change.

He began by instructing his orchestra I want this to be big & wonderful, and then proceeded to conduct “flat”, illustrating the problems that arise when leaders say one thing and do another.

Then Roger announced he would be very engaged, and over-directed a soloist. Afterward, the soloist described herself as “stifled”. Soloists, Roger told us, like to take control during solos and not have the conductor in their face—they will shut out conductors who over-direct. The parallel to micromanaging staff was obvious.

It’s such an easy thing for an orchestra to hate a conductor.

Roger asked Why a conductor at all? He demonstrated by not conducting a selection that included abrupt, unrehearsed change. The orchestra did a magnificent job, but sounded ragged. Egos won’t help. The lesson: good leadership requires specific direction at the right time, so everyone can execute together. A leader becomes more critically important the more change there is. The soloist who had to start illustrated another lesson—she thanked the rest of the orchestra for supporting her.

The baton: The tools of leadership are pretty simple.

Roger shared …the conductor’s nightmare: I’ll commit and nobody plays.

He demonstrated the following concepts:

Don’t get out too far in front of the group.
The perils of an unclear signal.
I’ll show you the way, but you’ll go there.

Conductors listen for stuff going wrong and fix it. And they also listen for the things that people are doing right. Take what the orchestra gives you and work with it. Listen for what could be.

Roger illustrated having the first violinist as right-hand man when you’re not around.

It’s hard to separate out ego needs. Make it clear to players how they work together.

Shared leadership: Sometimes an instrument leads.

If they trusted me today, that was because of what I did. You can’t ask for trust, you can earn it.

There are a lot of conductors who specialize in passion. This nauseates the orchestra.

An orchestra notices that conductor knows the score by heart.

On hearing something wrong during playing: Get together and check that note. Notice, I didn’t say who was right.

They feel more about your enthusiasm for their playing than my giving them a compliment.

Musicians are trained to work together; physicians are trained as soloists.

If you can see the big picture, the more you can help orchestra members see it.

Roger’s last comment particularly resonated with me, for the times when I’m facilitating group process at a conference: My connection with orchestra members is a conduit for them to connect with each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Music Paradigm, finding it an effective way to explore many aspects of functional & dysfunctional leadership via an audience’s experience of the ways a conductor might lead an orchestra. If you’re looking for a unique and effective way to demonstrate multiple facets of leadership and guiding principles to your organization, check it out! And, if you have the opportunity to attend a Music Paradigm session, don’t miss it!

Case Study from Conferences that Work