Collaboration via Commitment to Make Perfect Harmony

I have had first-hand experience of the focus and commitment required to make perfect harmony which is the music world’s version of workplace collaboration. I recently joined a Sweet Adeline’s quartet called Magic Moments. I have only sung with them three times now: the first time to audition, the second time at the tail-end of a birthday party for one of the quartet’s members, and the third time last week in a church sanctuary for the mom of one the quartet’s members. In the church sanctuary, the acoustics were such that I could hear our blended sound. Being able to hear our blended sound, we sculpted and created each sound to perfection. Being able to see the look of joy and appreciation on the face of our listener, we performed like never before. We would not have been able to create that harmonious sound if we didn’t all put our voices out there and listen carefully to each other in order to tune as well as focus on the music to be able to find the words, our individual notes, the rhythm, and tempo. A great quartet performance takes the commitment to memorize the music and practice together as well as the focus to reproduce the music and adjust to each other as needed in the moment of singing.

After this wonderful quartet experience, I could not wait to sing with the quartet again to see what else we can create together that will be pleasing to our listeners. Similarly, when a magic moment happens in a workplace collaboration, you are moved to take action that will bring value to the organization.

There are three characteristics of both singing in a quartet and workplace collaboration that are required to achieve magic moments. One characteristic is effective group experience which in a quartet is about the collected experience while in workplace collaboration is about the group process. A second characteristic is the right players playing important roles. And the third characteristic is ‘perfect practice makes perfect’ which is about recognizing early on the techniques needed to maximize success.

Let’s begin with the first characteristic of group experience. When singing with a quartet, not only are you looking to achieve the ring that accompanies a perfect four-part harmony, but you are also looking to be in synchronization on song dynamics, tempo, rhythms, starting and stopping, and moving to the tune. In a workplace collaboration, the group experience is the result of the group process. If the group process is lacking or non-existent, then the group experience will be tedious, disorganized, and non-purposeful and participants will feel like they are wasting their time. If the group process is effective, then the group experience will be enjoyable, structured, and productive and participants will feel like they made valuable contributions.

The second characteristic is the right players playing important roles. In a quartet, you have four players and each player has an important role. The tenor needs to be able to hit high notes in a way that is complementary to the group providing the ‘icing on the cake’ through much of the piece and fills the high register with a full sound in ringing four-part chords. The bass needs to be able to hit low notes with a full sound to provide the foundation for the quartet. The alto needs to be able to fill the space between the bass and the lead and fill the middle register with a full sound in ringing four-part chords. The lead provides a full sound to sing the melody and sets the pace, tempos, and dynamics of the piece. In a workplace collaboration, there are also important roles that need to be filled with the right players. For example, the basis of an effective collaboration is setting the context and sharing focused content needed for the group to achieve the required outcomes for the collaboration. In addition, participants need to bring a diversity of perspectives and represent key stakeholders in order to achieve the required outcomes from the collaboration.

The third characteristic is ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ Certainly with singing, as with many things in life, it is harder to unlearn something wrong then to learn the correct technique from the beginning. In Sweet Adelines there are correct techniques associated with vocal production (http://www.sweetadelineintl.org/index.cfm?id=8). Quartets in Sweet Adlines make extensive use of vocal coaching to learn and maximize the correct techniques for vocal production. Similarly for workplace collaboration, there are a set of techniques for facilitating group process. The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) has documented these techniques as the core competencies of facilitators and Certified Professional Facilitators (CPF’s) demonstrate and maintain these competencies (http://www.iaf-world.org/index/certification/CompetenciesforCertification.aspx). The assessment process for attaining the CPF recognition is based on rigorous peer review of knowledge, experience and demonstration of skills associated with the core competencies.

An example of these three characteristics for workplace collaboration can be found in Agile methodology which is typically used in software development to help businesses better manage the uncertainty associated with business systems (http://agilemethodology.org/). The first characteristic, group experience, is embodied in the concept of Scrum in Agile methodology. Scrum is a group collaboration approach that emphasizes empirical feedback, team self management, and the building of properly tested product increments using short iterations. The second characteristic, right players playing important roles, boils down to the Agile team and their stakeholders who together comprise the project team. The third characteristic, ‘perfect practice makes perfect,’ is an evolving area for Agile methodology. For example, Rainer Grau describes an approach called “innovation arena” for the prioritization of requirements by an Agile team (http://re-magazine.ireb.org/issues/2014-1-learning-to-fly/innovation-arena/). The innovation arena involves the technique of visualizing requirements in order for the team to agree to a maturity level to assign the requirement which then determines the priority of the requirement.

From the use of collaboration in Agile methodology, together with the three core characteristics of workplace collaboration as gleaned from singing in a quartet, we can better understand when it is necessary to use collaboration. For example, collaboration is needed when group process is needed. In addition, collaboration is needed when different players with different roles need to be involved. Typically, if group process is called for it is because there are different players with very different perspectives. Finally, collaboration is needed when you are in a ‘right the first time’ mode because of time constraints or project complexity. Project complexity is indicated when it is difficult to explain a project without using visualization of some sort or when you are dealing with a complex adaptive system. To learn more about how your project could benefit from proper collaboration methods, contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com).

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