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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Do you need a conductor?

I was fortunate enough about 8 years ago to watch A Money Programme special, with Roger Nierenburg who whilst being the conductor of an orchestra is also a recognised management speaker. He highlighted that today's knowledge workers although being highly specialised did not always need the services of a conductor to lead them in the usual command and control manner - but to help guide them. Well I was reading an interesting article in this weeks Economist about the Orpheus Chamber orchestra who have gone one step further than Nierenburg and works to prove that it thrives without the use of a baton.

Orpheus works by rotating leadership every so often. A core group initially works on the piece and then brings in the rest of the orchestra. Like most organisations learning this way led to a few false starts but the process has now got back on track once it has gone through the problems of creating a new team. (Look at Bruce Tuckmans work in 1965 via Wikipedia if you want to see how new teams develop) It is also interesting that they do require more rehearsal time but that that time spent means that they get closer and see behind the notes and come up with a different interpretation than the herd. Th article highlights that the string section has a more lush powerful sound than would be expected from a section of its size.

People do seem to enjoy the opportunity to try out new ideas. Interestingly they also have limited their team size to about 40 people which is interesting as it may have some consequences in team theory. As they have an initial core who start the process and then branch it out - the group size because they are all wedded to the concept of musical and group excellence there is a peer pressure to deliver and prove the conductorless concept to the world at large.

One interesting observation is that the removal of the conductor means that people are more empowered to make their own decisions rather than taking a passive approach and waiting for the leader to make the decision. This in many respects mirrors some of the work carried out by Gerald Fairtlough regarding the reduction of hierarchies in organisations.

The orchestra aren't saying that conductors are bad for them as knowledge workers - only that sometimes it helps if they get out of the way and aren't all inspiring.

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