How is a Global Team like a Professional Orchestra?

orchestraDo you find yourself looking ahead to a day’s work and then finding at 6pm (or 8 or 10pm!) that nothing seems to be different, and that if anything, you are further from what you wanted to achieve than when you started?

I work with leaders of global teams to get better performance out of their people and sometimes it helps them to think of the challenge in terms of an orchestra. Mostly my clients are talented and clear about what they are aspiring to. Often they are pretty visual in their thinking and can picture what the end product is going to look like, feel like and sound like. So the orchestra scenario works well:

      • The conductor (leader) knows exactly what he or she wants to achieve and how, and it’s written down in the score (strategy). At any point the conductor knows what each section (function / department) is supposed to be playing. The 80-odd musicians of a modern orchestra could never agree on the shape of a symphony without a conductor to describe it in the air for them.
      • There are many different types of musical instruments to coordinate, just as a global team comprises a range of functions and people from diverse cultures and different time-zones. Within each section musicians have different parts to play and are producing different sounds  e.g. first and second violins, reflecting an array of divergent thinking styles within a global team.  
      • The musicians (functional or regional specialists) are experts in their musical instruments and more talented than the conductor who directs from the score, as opposed to playing the music. The value the conductor adds is inspiring and allowing other people to perform to their highest level of expertise. As Christopher Seaman, famous conductor and teacher at the Guildhall School of Music said ‘Your whole personality (especially your face and eyes) has to give the sense of assurance and expectancy that inspires an orchestra to play.’
      • Musicians need to feel valued, accepted and secure. In the absence of this egos will be bruised and musicians will walk. When the conductor brings out the greatest creativity and enthusiasm in each player, sound becomes music. Together, the team creates a result that far surpasses what any individual could produce on their own.
      • The conductor usually stands on a platform and is visible to every single member of the orchestra, in order to ensure the orchestra stays in alignment and is keeping to time. Successful conductors are aware of their gestures and impact. Without precision their musicians will not be able to follow. This applies to both playing the notes and respecting the pauses in the score. Similarly, musicians must listen to each other to know when they are supposed to be leading and when accompanying.
      • A professional orchestra rehearses a piece in order to coordinate the rhythmic ensemble and ensure that the pitches of the different sections match, just as an organization learning how to implement a new process will rehearse, particularly where there is a requirement for multiple activities to be coordinated and completed within time constraints.

So how could this metaphor help you step up to the next level? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    1. How clear is your score/strategy? If it is indeed as well written as a Beethoven symphony, how skillful is your conducting to ensure everyone knows how it should be? How much music are you producing, as opposed to noise?
    2. Are all your players / team members truly listening to each other? Are you creating opportunities for them to interact and build trust outside of telephone and video conferences?
    3. How visible are you? Are your gestures clear? What might you need to do to ensure that team members who cannot literally see you understand your intentions?
    4. How attuned are you to out of place flats and sharps? How quickly and skillfully are you at addressing poor performance and returning team players are back on track?
    5. How are you ensuring that the sounds are aligning to produce the effect that you want? What impact do you, as a bearer of your own culture, have on relationships in the team? What else can you do to build trust across the team?
    6. How well do you value the rests? The pauses in any musical score are there for a distinct reason,  as punctuation. How often do you schedule in time to plan, evaluate, think, rest and play, both for yourself and for your team members? The fast-paced and ambiguous nature of leading global teams necessitates reflection if we are going to show up as our best selves.

For more information on Clare McNamara’s work with global executives and their teams visit

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