Building a Great Team One Song at a Time

This post is a part of our 2016 Lead Change Group Guest Blogger Series. Today we are pleased to reacquaint you with Tony Adams, a returning Instigator.

What can a choir of society’s most disadvantaged teach us about leadership and the importance of building a great team?

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Melbourne’s “Choir of Hope and Inspiration” perform. What a wonderful, uplifting experience to listen to this group of beautiful, courageous people living with the crushing isolation of homelessness, mental health and addiction.

OK, so the singing wasn't great and the dress code was, frankly, a little frayed around the edges, but the collective result was something very special. Energy, passion, vulnerability, courage and joy.

Indeed, what struck me about the Choir was the commitment that the singers showed to their music and importantly, to each other.

Think about this for a moment - the Choir members live in the cold, grey fringes of society - homeless, often physically or intellectually disabled, or with severe isolation issues - drugs, alcohol or mental health problems. Their backs are up against the wall every day. Every single day. An unrelenting struggle to survive, to stay off the drink or the needle, to find something to eat, to have a shower, to get the right medication.

Commitment to a social activity might be a little low on their level of priorities, yet these remarkable people turn up and practice for 5 hours at a time, once a week, every week. They are committed to the cause, heart and soul. Amazing.

So where does this commitment come from? How can we achieve that same bond with our team members?

Maslow gives us a starting point, by arguing that we can provide an environment that nurtures "higher order needs" for self-actualisation, self-respect, a sense of recognition and identity.

It was wonderful to see the Choir Master put that into practice by bringing the singers together and teasing out their stories, letting them express themselves as individuals through solo performances and brief interviews between numbers, inviting the audience to connect with the singers both as people (not "homeless people", "addicts" or "drunks", but simply, regular people) and as a collective group.

These are really simple, powerful practices - allowing our teams members the space and security to express themselves through their work, helping them find their own, personal voices and building a sense of tribal belonging, of being "in the team".

In practical terms, we can focus on cultivating mutual respect, sense of individual and collective identity and a clear, engaging and simple sense of purpose.

One of the singers said it so well - "When I'm walking around the streets I mostly get ignored but once I tell people I'm in the Choir, it always starts a conversation, people become interested and I love to talk about it".

What a powerful affirmation of identity and belonging.

As leaders, we succeed when we pull together a group of people with little in common, into a tight, connected and committed team. To do this well, to get the very best from our people, we need to step away from the team and connect with them as individuals.

We need to talk with them, not to them.

We need to give of ourselves and invite them to do so in return.

We need to listen and respond.

We need to engage, completely and honestly.

Tony Adams is a project leadership consultant, speaker, mentor and writer and feels truly blessed to work with brilliant, innovative people and companies around the world, leading complex, innovative change programs that shape the way their people live and work. Learn more about Tony at his website.