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How an orchestra can help you build a great company culture

Organizational culture is important. All high-performing companies have a unique and differentiated culture.  A culture that runs through the organization.  It’s difficult to grow sustainably without great organizational culture.  So, what is this mysterious culture about?  Put simply, it’s the environment which surrounds an employee at work all the time.  Its manifest in the way people talk to each other, how work gets done and how decisions are made.  In most cases, a company culture is implied.  It’s just there!  It isn’t explicitly defined.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in companies with a great culture, where people are happy, and work is going along well.  If you have grumpy employees, or people don’t seem very keen to cooperate with each other, then the culture needs to be spelt out.

Classical musicians are a great parallel we can draw from. They need to read music to get the best notes out to create beautiful music.  Likewise, it takes an explicit culture to get the best out of your people.  Taking the metaphor further, like any good orchestra, in a great culture everyone knows their role in the team.  With the leader performing the role of the maestro.  A western orchestra contains 4 key sections- the Strings, Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion.  Similarly, an organization has 4 key areas to focus on to enable a great culture.  And the 4 are (drum roll) ….

Instrument #1:  The Strings

The Strings in an orchestra provide the harmony or the melody.  Forming the largest group in an orchestra, it includes the violins, the violas and the cello.  The ‘Strings’ in an organization are your unique vision and strategic plan.  And the alignment of that strategy to each employee.  If vision and strategy are clear and known across the organization, key attributes of a good culture such as a sense of belonging and ownership become automatic.

Instrument #2: The Brass

The Brass section (trumpets, tuba etc.) provides the brilliance to the music.  It can play louder than any other section of the orchestra. But does so only if it fits into the rest of the music.  The ‘Brass’ in an organization are your star employees.  A result-oriented culture is encouraged if star employees are managed well.  And that encourages continuous learning and growing.  Unlike an orchestra, the Brass section in an organization doesn’t stay static.  Every employee should be encouraged to and can be a super-star.  Though you need to make sure that the trumpet-blowers don’t grow at the expense of the rest of the team!

Instrument #3: The Woodwinds

The Woodwinds (flute, oboe etc.) can be used for just about anything! They can be used in a starring as well as a secondary role in an orchestra.  The ‘Woodwinds’ in an organization are your systems and processes.  Frequently overlooked, broken systems and processes create a significant amount of inter-departmental and inter-employee strife.  Every department feels that the other departments are not doing much.  And that creates significant heartburn.  Everyone should be clear on how to perform a task, and who’s responsible for doing it.  These obviously need to link in to your strategy, organizational structure and job roles.

Proper systems, processes and role definitions allow a culture of trust and team-work.  And for that trust to be there, an open and honest process of communication is also required.

Instrument #4: The Percussion

The Percussion (drums, cymbals etc.) provide the tempo and the rhythm to the music.  They add excitement and colour to the music.  In an organization, the Percussion is your work environment.  That includes a variety of things to seemingly inane (but not!) elements like lighting, coffee availability or desk space to others like offsites, team lunches and the office dartboard.  These help in adding the colour to the job- a fun culture.  That said, think of the percussion as the cherry on top of a cake.  Very desirable, but not-so-much without the cake- a.k.a. the Strings, the Brass and the Woodwinds.

Putting it all together

The orchestra metaphor is to drive home the point that many instruments – strategy, systems & processes, star-performers and work environment- are required to enable a great culture.  And the magic ingredient that ties it all together?  The maestro or the leader.

Culture is learned through interaction.  So that’s where the maestro (leader) plays a critical role.  S/he needs to keep defining and redefining each instrument.  And keep communicating about these instruments.  And encourage behaviours that add flavour to the culture.

So, ultimately, it’s the leader who is the most important in defining a culture.  Ever noticed how an organization with an angry person at the top, has a lot of angry people in the organization?

So Maestro, go ahead define your organisations culture and create your own symphony!

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  • Rajeev Rao says:

    One point that could be added to the analogy:
    Just like string instruments require tuning every now and then – whether played regularly or left around by themselves for a length of time, the organization’s unique vision and strategic plan require a review from time to time, to keep them relevant.

    • Sunil Dias says:

      Spot on, Rajeev! Strings (and all the other instruments) need regular tuning to keep producing super results.

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