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Communication Training the Thelonius Monk Way

“Just because you’re not a drummer doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.” – Thelonious Monk

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You don’t have to know who Thelonious Monk is (bonus points if you do) or even be a musician to know what that quote means – if just one player in a band is off beat, the whole performance will sound off. Creating music is about more than a group of players each performing their individual part – it’s about the way those players listen to each other and perform together that really counts. Like any group working toward a common goal, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.

Keeping time seems like such an elementary part of music-making that we take it for granted, until that is, the timing is off and then you can’t think about anything else. Keeping time and playing in sync with others is simply one of the foundations of playing well together.

I like to use this metaphor when conducting communications training to demonstrate how working in silos can produce sour notes and bad business results. What about the players, or team members, in your organization? Do they come together as a team and perform harmoniously, each well aware of each other’s role and responsibilities? Is there a common understanding about the goals, mission and business priorities? Or do they simply focus on playing their individual part, assuming or hoping that someone else is connecting the dots?

During communication training sessions I often hear participants describe the lack of harmony within their organization being due to the fact that no one knows what the other is doing and even if they did, they’ve got their own deadlines and deliverables so they need to stay focused on their part and not worry about what is happening with others. Great plan, right? This is akin to an orchestra trying to pull off an opening night performance when they’ve never rehearsed their parts, together. The curtain will fall early that night.

How can you open up communication that avoids siloed-thinking?

  • Interview

    Before beginning any new project, ask team members to take time to conduct “mini-interviews” with their project mates to better understand each other’s roles and responsibilities.

  • Update

    Encourage well-organized project team meetings where members not only update each other but share key challenges and describe where they need help.

  • Ask

    Invite team members to always ask themselves before taking new action – “Who will this impact? Who should be informed?

Follow Monk’s advice and ensure consistency of messages and expectations across all departments and get agreement that everyone must “keep time” when working together. It’s up to you, as a leader of your organization, to use the communication tools available to you to heighten the collective performance of your group – to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Investing in this type of communication training takes a commitment, but it’s one that pays off substantially as each member of your team will start to listen and play together in a whole new way. Only then will your organization’s performance start to sound like… music, sweet music.