HOW DO YOU SET THE TONE?

Oh là là! A word starting with “O” this month. And this one was really easy to find: ORCHESTER.

I like to use the ORCHESTER as a picture to describe a group of people who gather for a common goal, e.g. a company or an association or a family. Together, we interact to create something: a set of results, a successful conference, a tightly-knit unit, etc. Each of us accomplishes a series of tasks in order to come closer to that goal. The interaction we have with each other ensures that these tasks fit together: ideally the results achieved will be larger than the sum of these tasks because of the quality of the interactions between the people. Ok, I agree that I’m being idealistic here… Still I believe that it’s worth to look closer into the idea of the ORCHESTER.

In an ORCHESTER, everything seems to be well organised. Everyone knows what to play as it is clearly written on the music sheets. (We could compare these with job descriptions). Each musician just needs to set his/her own instrument and to play, voilà! But there is much more behind. The conductor decides how the piece of music will be played with his/her understanding of what the composer wanted to convey: the intensity, the speed, the emotionality, the sound of some instruments, etc. And this is where the job of each individual becomes more than plainly playing what is written on the music sheets. The musician has to take into account these nuances, to look at the conductor, to listen around at what and how the others are playing… Beyond the individual task of playing one’s own instrument, a musician is also clearly aware of the whole piece of music being played.

And it takes training to do that. An ORCHESTER puts hours of practice before it plays a part in front of an audience. Musicians get trained to listen to each other to play harmoniously. Have you been trained to “listen” to your colleagues around you in order to work in harmony…? I’m very curious about your answer…

That’s quite nice you may be thinking: when they play, musicians hear in the moment the results of their actions. How they play reflects immediately on the whole piece of music. But when you set the budget for an important investment or when you decide on the assumptions for a critical calculation, you rarely see the immediate effects on the whole company. It is most likely that these effects will be known in a few months or even years. That’s exactly why it is important to estimate these effects (both quantitatively and qualitatively) and check along the way how these estimates hold.

I’m not a specialist when it comes to manage an orchester, so I don’t know if the musicians (or groups of instruments) have objectives to meet in order to get a bonus ;-), as it is the case in large companies. What “management by objectives” often lacks are 1) whether these objectives fit together in the big picture and 2) how they develop over the middle- to long-term. Let’s say that one department has the objective to implement an IT system within 24 months. Let’s also assume that this new IT system influences the processes of other departments, some significantly and others minimally. The responsible department has a strong incentive to meet that deadline, so it will do everything it can to make it. If this objective is not made transparent to the other departments and if the deadline of 24 months is rather tight, there is a clear probability that communication and coordination with the affected departments will kept to a minimum. Why? Because only the responsible department will be rewarded in this simple example and the effects on the whole have not been defined from the beginning.

If, for a moment, we transfer such a situation to an orchester, what we would hear as an audience would sound like a cacophony… Yes, every musician is playing by the music sheets but doesn’t bother how the whole piece sounds. I would not want to listen to that ORCHESTER again!

Everyday, you have the responsibility to set the tone for the day: for yourself and also in your team, your family or in a meeting. How do you do it? I look forward to hearing from you!

Inspiringly yours,
Caroline