It ain't what you do...

Achieving great collective performance has the same basic principles for musicians, sports teams and other groups of individuals.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

The Jazz standard 'It Ain't What you Do' is well known by musicians as a classic chord sequence to improvise over, and it occurred to me the other day the lyrics are also a great analogy for making collaboration work over time within enterprises.

While many people focus on technology as a magic solution to enhance communication, collaboration and connections inside companies, the reality is that it's the way that you do it that makes all the difference for success or failure. Enabling technologies are not hard to find these days - what's difficult is making them work for the contexts of your business, and along with, or instead of, all the other ways people chose to network with each other and to share information.

Large technology companies whose employees are 'dogfooding' the product offerings they hope end users will buy (dogfooding meaning employees using the online software products they also sell) obviously works very well when your salary depends on your obedience and adherence to internal organizational models. Successful use of the tech is a very different proposition when endusers have no skin in the game and have other options and agendas.

Happily we're now entering more mature and informed times where existing enterprise technologies and associated processes are starting to be melded with Enterprise 2.0/Social technologies by users. Aiming to achieve specific value propositions is taking precedence over experimental adoption of new ideas and fashions at a departmental collaboration silo level.

One of the attractions of encouraging collaborative practices in enterprises is fostering innovation. With the relationship between musical creativity and the technology world at a high right now (SXSW and major league bands as support acts for Marc Benioff's barnstorming Salesforce events for example) it's worth exploiting my musical analogy a bit further.

It takes a strong rhythm section and people willing to carry the chords that shape the melody before anyone can draw attention to themselves by playing the melody and/or improvising. Jazz musicians often take turns soloing before dropping back into the background texture of a tune, while we frequently hear about rock groups breaking up due to 'artistic differences', which is often about individual band members hogging the limelight.

The way that we organize to 'do' collaborative activities, developing mindful behaviors to help others, is at the heart of successfully working together. The ways, times and places we work together, putting relevant information into the flow of work to help others is transforming the ways in which we work.

The ways in which you use social networks for our personal use is all about you, and you can spend as much of your personal time as you want interacting and consuming with friends. Working together collectively uses very similar technologies for very different end results. As we all know there are plenty of shovel leaners, armchair quarterbacks, digital talkers and meeting mavens in companies and not enough unsung heroes who complete tasks. Much like the way jazz musicians (who may have never played together before) collaborate around the basic musical framework for 'It Ain't What you Do', giving each other room to shine while making sure they simultaneously carry the tune together all the way through is at the heart of the musical ethos.

Anyone can buy a musical instrument and make random noises, the challenge is in feeling you are expressing yourself in harmony with others, and that's also where the real power of orchestrating the modern enterprise resides. Even though overcoming the political fiefdoms and personality conflicts in a company to realize these benefits can be as tricky as handling a group of divas, creating a collective way of working together which everyone enjoys and understands is a timeless differentiator for achieving optimum performance. This is as true for musicians, sports teams and other groups of highly skilled individuals as it is for business performance.

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