The subject of collaboration has been on my mind a lot this past week. I have been lucky enough to have been part of teams that have clicked on certain projects only to flounder on others for no apparent reason. Despite all the great Web 2.0 tools available to us, successful collaboration still seems to be an elusive thing. As I noodled on this on the way home one day, with Wes Montgomery, playing his heart out on my headphones, I starting thinking that jazz may very well be the ultimate example of successful collaboration. A lot has been written about the conversation that takes place between jazz musicians. It has been used as a metaphor for Organizational Improvisation, it has even been the subject of a blog post to describe the similarities between jazz and Social Media. The tune I was listening to was from an album called “Smokin’ At The Half Note” which has been called “…the absolute greatest jazz guitar album ever made” by Pat Metheny. It was recorded during a series of live performances with the Wynton Kelly Trio and when I listen to it I hear a band that’s totally tuned in to each other. It is probably one of my favourite albums but it is only one example of what jazz musicians do every day the world over.
So what are they doing that makes it work for them so consistently and how can we incorporate their formula into making collaboration work in business? I started thinking about what they do so well and this is what I came up with.
1. They all speak the same language
- They have taken the time to learn the vocabulary. Knowing the language allows them to contribute and collaborate as equals.
2. They listen, truly listen
- Without prejudice. Their response is based on what they hear, not what they’ve been planning for the past 12 bars while they wait for their turn to solo.
3. They are all totally committed to creating something special
- Until Wes calls for “Four on Six” in G minor, they are just a good band playing scales. Even great musicians need direction and when they get it they give each other the space and respect necessary to create art.
4. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts
- I happen to think that Wes Montgomery is the greatest guitar player that ever lived, but if the Wynton Kelly Trio didn’t swing as hard as they do on this record, it wouldn’t be half as special.
5. They know when to stop
- Wes plays a nine chorus solo on Impressions that I think works because he stops at nine. He knows his audience and he knows when an idea has run its course.
6. They are willing to be amazed
- They don’t let their egos prevent them from hearing great musical ideas from the rest of the band.
I’m sure there’s a lot more but that’s all I could think of. Nothing earth shattering, nothing new, nothing lots of people haven’t been saying for years, yet successful collaboration in business remains a hit-or-miss proposition. So why do we sometimes, despite all our best efforts, end up with “Kenny G Live” but every now and then we get “Smokin’ At The Half Note”?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and some of your secrets to successful collaboration.