Running a firm is often referred to as “herding cats.” I believe an even better metaphor can be found in our annual May Day celebration:Running a Firm is a lot like running a drumming circle. Yes, a drumming circle, where people sit in a circle and pound out a rhythm. We host an annual “drumming party” on May Day each year to celebrate the end of rainy season and the start of summer planting. As you would expect, a good time is had by all. But even more important, there is a lasting effect that draws people back to the drumming experience again and again. The metaphor for team building is pretty obvious, but the comments from the participants add some insight that I want to share with you.
· “Great party to kick off the season, we needed someone to wake us up from Winter.”
o One could argue that tax season is Winter, you may want to look at creating a Kick-off event for your team that sets the tone for the balance of the year.
o Most people are waiting for someone else to take the lead.
· “I’ve always wanted to drum, but never felt courageous enough to jump in.”
o Most people want to be on a team, but have never had the experience. As a result we have learned to “march to our own beat” which is code for “I don’t want to let anyone else down or be let down by anyone else.”
o There are high expectations for being on a team. Many people avoid joining them because it is just safer to be a “hairbrush singer or dashboard drummer” (a la Carrie Underwood) than risk making a mistake in front of others.
· “It’s amazing how quickly the group got into a coherent rhythm. We seemed to do better when we had a strong, steady beat to set the pace.”
o You can’t have a team without a leader. A vacuum of leadership causes “random acts of drum solos” which can be quite painful to sit through.
o A good leader doesn’t have to have a complicated rhythm. Just a strong steady beat for others to follow.
o The leader’s base beat provides a platform for others to step out and shine.
o A leader who keeps changing the beat makes it difficult for others to follow.
o A strong leader can set a rhythm for all types of percussion instruments, not just drums.
o It doesn’t work for there to be multiple leaders at the same time. You can pass it off to another, but competing leaders make it hard for the team to follow.
· “It took a while, but once we were all drumming along in the same groove, you could look around the circle and see everyone noticing the cohesion of the group and smiling.”
o When a team gels together, it is a beautiful thing.
o When someone doesn’t pay attention and wanders off the groove, the positive peer pressure from the rest of the group helps to get them back on track.
o If they wander off over and over again, the group will lose patience.
o A strong leader can turn a cacophony into a symphony.
· “Can’t wait to do this again!”
o Once you take the fear out of being on a team, people begin to crave the feeling of success that cohesive team work brings. (Despite the extra work during tax season, sometimes the shared experience and teamwork has a positive impact.)
Here are some questions to focus your firm on key elements of team building:
1. Do you have a strong steady beat (a mission) that provides a platform to bring everyone together for a greater good?
2. Are you making it easy for people to “jump in” without fear of reprisal for making mistakes?
3. Are there too many leaders trying to lead at the same time? Firms that rely on a consensus building leadership model end up with a team that quickly loses interest in the process.
4. If the reward for good teamwork should be self-reinforcing, why do we have to incentivize this behavior? Review previous questions.
It’s May, time to wake up from tax season, re-establish the firm’s core beat, and get everyone re-engaged in the “greater good” of the firm. By the way, you can usually find a drumming circle in your community or bring a drumming circle facilitator into your firm. There are even YouTube videos on how to host a drumming circle. That’s how I learned, you can too! Odds are your team will love it. A drumming circle may even become an annual event for you just like our May Day celebration.