Playing in Harmony: The Power of Collaboration in Business
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I have always been a music lover. At a young age, my parents bought me my first instrument, an alto saxophone. By high school, I was playing in every type of band my school offered. Orchestra and marching band were fun, but I found jazz especially difficult. Other types of music had challenges, but you always had the reliability of the music notes written on the page. But jazz was an entirely different experience.
Jazz music does have structure, but jazz also offered freedom and creativity other types of music did not. I loved jazz for the unknown music it provided. You could be around the same musicians every day, yet constantly create new music. In business, you can also create great harmonies with your own collaborators. Business collaboration has that same power if you remember the following:
1. Know your band
In jazz, a band could be anywhere from two people to a full orchestra. Where true collaboration exists, almost any size can work, but some of the best music comes from a smaller focused group. Ensure your collaboration is committed to playing together and won’t play (speak) over each other while working toward common goals.
2. All members of the band are important
In my jazz ensembles, I usually played the baritone sax a larger instrument with a deep, low sound. While I didn’t often solo, my role was to set a strong foundation of low notes that other players improvised on. In your collaboration, it is important that all members are valued, including those that have more limited roles. Encourage everyone to have a moment of solo input.
3. Everyone can’t be a soloist
Someone has to lead and the others should know their roles. Often a jazz ensemble will let the trumpet player solo, then the sax, then the piano, and so on. What’s important is that each time a new person takes a solo role, the prior soloist falls into the background to support the new lead. Your collaboration will need a person to lead, but the best groups share leadership in a way that everyone has an opportunity to shine. The best leaders are often great followers as well.
4. Practice, practice, practice
The great musician Charlie Parker once said, “You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” Essentially, the practice helps you master the basics, so when it’s time to perform you can play at your best without worry. For your business, collaboration may not be easy. You may bring together other high-achievers. Everyone is used to working on their own and succeeding that way. Your group may need to practice collaboration before you can “wail” to success. It may be hard at first, but keep practicing and the harmonies will come.
5. Guest soloists should accept feedback from outside the organization
Even the best bands can become stagnant, and creative sounds don’t come as easily as they used to. You will often see bands let new players join in for a jam session. Businesses experience that same problem from time to time. You can reenergize your collaboration with a jam session with guest players that understand the challenges of business.
Are you a small business owner that feels like you always have to go solo? Some of the best results come from a collaborating in a business group of achievers. For the group that is committed to collaboration, you can create amazing music.
Calvin Harris Jr., (@calvinhjr) CPA, is the President of Harvin Consulting LLC (@harvinconsult), a business-management consulting firm with expertise in business wind-down, turn-around, start-up, and growth management services. Calvin is also the National President and Board Chair of the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.