ORCHESTRATING COLLABORATION AT WORK: Using music, improv, storytelling and other arts to improve teamwork

by Arthur B VanGundy and Linda Naiman.

This an activity book for corporate trainers and facilitators who want to use the arts to create transformative learning experiences. It contains 72 arts-based learning activities to help groups learn about creativity, collaboration, and leadership.

Excerpt from Chapter 2

By Linda Naiman

If the group is an art form of the future,
then convening groups is the artistry we must cultivate to fully explore the promise of this form.
—Centered on the Edge, 2001, Fetzer Institute

We live in a global society that uses teams to create wealth, market share, customer service, competitive advantage, and other markers of organizational success. Teams provide the social “glue” in organizations that melds together people, processes, and technologies to produce services or products. Organizations cannot function without teams; however, teams must be designed properly to fit organizational cultures. And they must be managed properly, a topic that has consumed countless management theorists over the years.

Organizations need teams to produce creative products, just as artists need the tools of their work. There may be a science to orchestrating team collaboration, but there also is an art. Artists often cannot predict the outcomes of their creative endeavors any more than managers can predict outcomes for their team challenges. Management “science” is necessary and contributes practical theories for teams to work better together. A more balanced approach, however, might blend science with art and magnify team effectiveness.

Orchestrating the efforts of team members to collaborate together represents an art form itself. Team leaders can be viewed as “conductors” who must facilitate individuals producing an optimal “composition” for every task. However, team leaders and facilitators should not orchestrate teams the way we often view musical conductors orchestrating symphonies.

According to Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, the traditional orchestra conductor metaphor of team leadership may be inappropriate. In a December 1998 interview in Fast Company magazine, he notes that musical conductors are mostly “dictators” with unquestioned authority. He proposes, instead, that conductors would be better served to empower their musicians to be the best they can be. So too should team managers, leaders, and facilitators.

This book is designed to bring out the collaborative power of teams through different applications of the arts. It is important, therefore, to explore first what is meant by the arts and how the arts can be applied to teams in organizations. This chapter will look at the nature of the arts, the existence of art, the rationale for using arts in business and in organizational training, provide a discussion on how some arts forms might be better than others, give guidelines for conducting an arts experience, plus bring out several other topics.

To gather information to discuss these topics, co-author and artist Linda Naiman contacted some of the leaders and pioneers in the arts-in-business movement. Many of them generously agreed to be interviewed via telephone, email, and in person. What follows is some of the richness of thought she gleaned from these interviews. She also has injected her own commentary about the arts to supplement their perspectives. The discussion begins with an examination of what constitutes the “arts” and art.

What Do We Mean by “Arts”?

The arts encompass the visual art forms of drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, electronic media, design, and video as well as the performing arts, which include dance, storytelling, poetry, music, film, and theater.

Why Use the Arts in Business?

Richard Olivier, former director of the Globe Theatre (UK) and author of Inspirational Leadership, Henry V and the Muse of Fire, notes:

Logical planning and implementation have got business where it is—it will not take it where it needs to go in this millennium. The call for flexibility, imagination and creativity at work is growing every year. And these are the mainstays of the creative artist. As we say to the business folk we work with: ‘Actors and artists have lived with insecurity for hundreds of years. Now it’s your turn!

According to Bonnie Goren, training manager of a large U.S. news organization:

Some of the greatest difficulties business leaders face revolve around the need to instill passion, gather energies toward a common vision, and motivate change in employees. Traditional communication methods between leaders and staff typically do not reach deeply into employees—where passion, vision, and ability to change reside. The arts have the potential to touch the minds and hearts of employees, and truly engage them.

Deborah Jacroux, a work/life consultant with the Microsoft Corporation (USA), says:

Over the years the logical/analytical left brain has dominated business decision making. Skills that utilize intuition, inspiration, and active imagination haven’t found a home within the corporate world. Many employees have equally separated their love of creativity and the arts, and a chasm exists between their right and left brains. The arts convey stories and the opportunity to enter a place where all is possible. The major obstacles corporations currently face, such as diversity, cross-group collaboration, and work/life balance, all can be met with an increased focus on the arts.

What is art, if not the enactment of diversity? All art, whether the visual arts, spoken stories, or the grace of dance, expresses the rich variety of authenticity of culture—a tapestry of humanity already painted for our eyes to read as symbol and understand with our hearts. Work rises from the soul and sculpts our future using creative imagination. Corporations of the future that understand the creative impulse within the human spirit will be the leaders of tomorrow.

How Can We Apply the Arts to Business?

The worlds of the arts and business are formulating a new relationship, distinct from the traditional models of entertainment or sponsorship. As Miha Pogacnik, a concert violinist and cultural ambassador to Slovenia, argues: “The world of arts must be rescued out of the prison of entertainment and the world of business must be led out of the desert of dullness of meaning!” In this new relationship, art is a role model for business, since all great art pushes boundaries beyond the established norms. Thus, it can teach us about aesthetics, ambiguity, diversity, chaos, change, courage, and complexity. According to British aesthetician, Sir Herbert Read, “The artist’s task is to break through the limitations of previously codified knowledge, to lead humanity to the future.”

Businesses today want to break away from their limitations, aim higher, and be a creative force for the greater good of the world. We need the transformative experiences the arts give us to thrive in a world of change. In ancient cultures, the mystery schools put students through initiations to overcome fear, learn something about their true nature, and gain self-actualization (self-mastery). The arts give us a taste of the mystery and help make sense of the world.

Trainer Marlene Caroselli notes:

We study the arts and artists whose reason-for-being is to look at what everyone else is looking at and see what no one else sees.

[Paraphrased from Gorki.] Artists, for example, serve as a bridge. (Leaders do as well.) They bridge the current with the past, the past with the future, the old with the new, the tested with the unexplored. Artists rebel. They refuse to conform. They seek a better way. Such attitudes lie at the heart of the quality movement, predicated on a faith in continuous improvement.

Many of the people interviewed for this book asserted the need for deeper levels of conversation or for different kinds of conversation. Margaret Wheatley said: “I don’t think we notice how much we’ve lost by this dead language that we use and the jargon that we use, until we have an artistic experience and realize that life is so much richer, lively, funnier, sadder. The reason David Whyte is so successful with poetry [in organizations] is because it takes you into this subterranean level of human experience.”

Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused, uses poetry to reclaim the language and metaphors that are part of our broader human inheritance. People then can understand and come to grips with many of the dynamics with which they are confronted. He contends we underestimate the drama of the workplace:

The inherited language in the work world is far too small for the kind of mythic drama that occurs there every day; we need a language commensurate with the drama of work. I do think that most companies are like Shakespeare’s plays, written large with dramatic entrances and exits, midnight assassinations, noble speeches while the grave diggers are telling it as it is, and every epoch ends with a lot of blood on the floor.

If the art we confront is more complex and advanced than our social capacities, we have an opportunity for growth and transformation. Music, for example, has complexities beyond our capacities to perceive them. Pogacnik explains: “Take for example the relatively simple ‘Trio Sonata’ by Bach. Three systems move in a complex way without losing their identity. If you are in a position to hear these three ‘voices’ moving in a contrapuntal way, individually and together as they relate to each other and unfold together in 5, 6, or 7 minutes, it is practically an impossible task. It is so difficult to be present in all that. That is what I mean by art being way ahead of our capacities.”

Music can teach us to listen instantly and truly hear what is going on and not get stuck in conventions or patterns in which we usually operate— crucial skills in a business environment.

The arts take us on adventures in creative expression that help us explore safely unknown territory, overcome fear, and take risks. We can transfer these learning experiences to the workplace. Art-making has an alchemical effect on the imagination. Art takes people out of the realm of analytical thinking and into the realm of silence, reverie, and heightened awareness. In my own work with organizations, I’ve noticed this shift in consciousness creates a crucible for deep conversation, from which emerges trust, caring, camaraderie, and genius-level thinking. A shared art experience enhances our sense of belonging and enriches conversation.

Learn more about our workshops featuring arts based learning for creativity and collaboration:

Participants in my workshops have observed that:

“Art can be part of the process of bridging gaps/polarities.”
“Art creates a different kind of conversation than the verbal/cerebral one of the workplace.”
“Painting was an experience of listening with other senses.”
“Art gives us new ways to experience each other.”

Orchestrating Collaboration at Work will help you:

  • Provide stimulating and effective training exercises
  • Incorporate the content and structure of the arts to resolve business problems
  • Teach specific skills for individual, group, and organizational effectiveness
  • Develop self-awareness, group-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Prototype possibilities for developing new products / services.
  • Rehearse “what if” options that lead to meaningful insights regarding change.
  • Create an aesthetic experience helps leaders make tacit knowledge visible; e.g. patterns, processes and relationships.
  • Help nurture relationships between dissimilar groups, fostering an appreciation for diverse and pluralistic points of view.
  • Be “Zen present” through ‘artful reflection’

Praise for Orchestrating Collaboration at Work

High-performance collaborative work teams are the new performance imperative in both private and public enterprises.
VanGundy and Naiman show how using the arts to unleash the creative potential of individuals and teams will allow this new performance mandate to be met. This book helps to push the edge of the arts in business envelope.
Robert F. Lusch, dean and distinguished professor, The Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas

Our experiences today, obviously demonstrate the need for a holistic, integrated approach to value creation. Only by means of interdisciplinary dialogue and action we will be able to access the existing multitude of creative development opportunities in social, ecological and economic contexts. Orchestrating Collaboration at Work provides hands on examples on how to start and facilitate such a process.
Andreas J. Harbig, partner, head of strategic HR management, Pricewaterhousecoopers, Germany

I think your book is wonderful!!
You masterfully designed a terrific array of resource materials.
Susan M. Osborn, PhD, faculty, organizational systems, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, Folsom, California

A wealth of enablers in the form of training excercises:
I have discovered the power and the simplicity in finding/applying a wide variety of experiencial excercises that spark creativity and imagination in groups. The beauty of this valuable workbook is that it unleashes our hidden potentialities. I have successfully used these activities in private business and in non profit organizations and in every ocassion the results have been the creation of high energy and relevant discoveries among participants. Thank you Arthur and Linda for your valuable contribution.
— Carlos Mota Margain (Mexico City, Mexico)

Will VanGundy Ever Run Out of Creativity?
Arthur VanGundy has already given us just about every conceivable aid to creative work–from “Brain Boosters” to “101 Games” and “101 Activities.” Now with Linda Naiman he delivers the most comprehensive and accessible creativity and innovation resource for groups I’ve ever seen. And it’s about time someone got business people to start thinking like artists. Anyone in business creativity, ideation, and new-product development will find the VanGundy-Naiman approach not only inspiring and fun but incredibly effective. This binderful of brilliance would be a bargain at $900.
— Peter Lloyd (USA)

Terrific Resource
I’ve purchased MANY books filled with MANY activities over the years. This is one of the best I’ve seen. It has lots of immediately applicable activities that are practically guaranteed to succeed. As well, it triggers lots of additional ideas for additional activities, too. A tremendous resource that every trainer, facilitator and consultant should add to their library.
— David Gouthro (Canada)