5 Ways to Quartets and Collaboration Performing Best

This week I wondered what singing quartets could teach about collaboration. Last week I attended my first rehearsal with the Greater Harmony Chorus, a chapter of Sweet Adelines International which is dedicated to advancing the musical art of barbershop quartet for women. Not only was the experience tremendously fun, but I was struck by how close I felt to this group of female singers after singing together with them for a couple of hours. Since it was my first rehearsal, I had to site read the music which poses the intellectual challenge of quickly processing the notes and rhythm on the page in order to sing with the group. Therefore, the quartet singing experience provided both an emotional and an intellectual dimension. Similarly, a results-producing collaboration experience occurs when there is both emotional, or affective, and cognitive engagement of participants.

Both barbershop quartet and collaboration are forms of creative expression. I heard Sir Ken Robinson speak at a conference many years ago about how creativity and intelligence are correlated. Specifically, the higher a person’s intelligence, the more capacity they have to be creative (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWJdCzgtFTo). Sir Ken Robinson also described creativity as a skill that needs to be practiced and developed to maintain and nurture. Similarly, researcher Aaron K. Barbey (http://news.illinois.edu/WebsandThumbs/barbey,aron/Barbey_Podcast.mp3) finds from neuroscience studies that emotional intelligence is correlated with general intelligence. Many authors including Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge have written about ways to improve emotional intelligence as a skill. Therefore, the presence of both an emotional dimension and an intellectual dimension in a creative activity should be expected and nurtured.

There are 5 ways to perform well in a quartet that also apply to collaboration. These ways are purpose, sense-making, practice, process, and listening.

Both quartet singing and collaboration have purpose. In quartet singing the primary purpose is entertainment. Entertainment is best achieved when the performance is authentic. An authentic performance results when the performers can make the message of the song personal to them, which, in turn, touches the hearts of audience members who are open to such an experience. In collaboration, the purpose is to inform action that produces value for the organization. Adequate up-front time needs to be spent to unearth a “purposeful” purpose before collaborators are brought together.

Iceberg Graphic Jun2014

Meetings that run like well-oiled machines, take lots of hard work behind the scenes

Both quartet singing and collaboration involve sense-making of seemingly disparate input. For example, a technique used in music is resolving discord to a harmonious sound. Discord helps to give a musical piece character and interest. Resolving the dissonance to a harmonious sound strengthens the fabric of the musical composition to make the piece more impactful and memorable. Discord in collaboration typically takes the form of debate or disagreement on content. Collaboration is needed for a complex task that involves multiple perspectives. The different perspectives often lead to debate which leads to new insights and, ultimately, to a better result then could have been achieved by any single perspective alone. For example, team teaching at the University of Pennsylvania when at its best ‘…provides students with a multifaceted sense of the subject matter, insists on complexity over oversimplification, and it forces us to make connections that we would not be prone to make’ (http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/v46/n30/tatBeavers-DeTurck.html). Similarly, effective collaboration helps resist oversimplification because complexity is needed to derive new thinking and new thinking is the starting point for creativity and innovation. Collaboration can help make sense of seemingly disparate material which is where the opportunity for innovation often lurks.

Both quartet singing and collaboration require practice or experience. In quartet singing, practice is needed to learn the individual parts in an isolated fashion and also when the parts are sung together. Practice is also needed to shape the dynamics, tempo, and rhythm for the desired emotional impact on the audience. Those who have a great deal of experience performing can perform at a high level with much less practice then someone who is new to performing. The analog to practice for collaboration is preparation and planning. The importance of adequate planning and preparation to a group collaboration event cannot be over-emphasized. The graphic shows all the things beneath the surface of the iceberg that constitute planning and preparation that are frequently overlooked prior to a group collaboration which makes if very difficult if not impossible to effectively and efficiently produce action of value to the organization.

Both quartet singing and collaboration are more effective when a good process is used. Good process comes from an experienced leader. In the case of quartet singing, it is the process used by the conductor together with the section heads. In the case of collaboration, it is the process used by the group facilitator together with the group sponsor(s). Experienced leaders understand the need for flexibility when the planned process does not produce the desired outcomes. Experienced leaders have the ability to change the process mid-stream as needed to achieve the desired outcomes. Experienced leaders can also respond effectively to the unexpected in order to stay on track to achieve the desired outcomes.

Finally, both quartet singing and collaboration require outstanding listening skills. In quartet singing, you need to listen to your fellow singers to get the proper blend of tone, pitch, style, and volume. When you successfully hit a harmonious 4-part chord, you will hear a lovely ring above your head when the perfect pitch is struck. Similarly, authentic listening is one key component to effective collaboration. Authentic listening can only occur if you truly care about the perspectives and ideas of other people. When you truly care about the input of others in a collaboration session, then you can set aside your own ideas and input in order to really listen to understand and to build off of what is being said. Outstanding listening also enables flexibility to maximize performance. In singing, outstanding listening may enable improvisation through the use of vocables to enhance the performance. Vocables are singing syllables with no meaning. In collaboration, outstanding listening might enable identification of a new opportunity to increase the value of the group outcome during the meeting and suggesting a mid-course change to accommodate the opportunity. If all the participants don’t have good listening skills, then a good conductor or meeting facilitator can call attention to and address when improvement in listening is needed.

It seems counter-intuitive that adding structure to a collaborative meeting with a facilitator is the best way to open the door to creativity in that meeting. Just like with a conductor in music, the ability to unleash creativity depends on the skill of the meeting facilitator. Collaboration harnesses the power of human connection to tackle any challenge. Contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com to learn how to improve your organization’s collaboration performance.