Written by Heidi McCulloch
I saw Broken Social Scene in concert recently; it was a private concert and I was one of only about 30 people in attendance. I was up close and personal with the band, and able to closely observe the way they interact with each other: their words, their body language, and their facial expressions.
They are known to be a collaborative band, often referred to as a collective. They bring in new members on a regular basis, and experiment with alternative musical styles. This situation was no different. They had two opera singers on stage with them from the local opera company essentially delivering a rock opera experience.
Broken Social Scene does some things differently. They exhibit behaviours which I believe are hallmarks of Collaboration. And the key thing is that these behaviors all appear to happen fluidly as though it’s just the way it goes on a regular basis.
1) Their actual physical positions occupied on stage change throughout the show.
The lead singer moves from middle to side, to back of stage, from song to song. Guitarists move from left stage to right stage. Everyone moves around. There doesn’t appear to be a rigid physical position for each or any band member.
2) There is no hierarchy of role.
The lead vocal in one song becomes the back-up vocal in the next song, and vice versa. At one point, the “back-up” singer sang vocal lead and the “lead singer” was not even on stage. The hierarchy of “a lead singer” and “a back-up singer” does not appear to exist. A singer is a singer.
3) New members are always coming in.
This is probably a crucial part to nurturing the collaborative culture they have. Bringing in new members fosters the embracing of new perspectives within the group, regularly. But it also would foster that interpersonal culture they seem to have, of working together, abandoning hierarchy and the rigidity of role.
4) Members have the technical skill to play multiple roles.
Not only do physical positions occupied move around, not only does hierarchical role move around, but also the members actually technically have the skill and ability to play multiple roles. The guitarist sings vocals, and plays keyboard and jumps on the drum set. And same for other members, who, at best, are able to technically step in and fill different roles in the band, and at the very least, are able to ‘understand’ more deeply roles other than their own primary one.
5) Leadership is actually ‘modeling’ Collaboration.
The last observation may actually seem counter to collaboration but I don’t think it is. Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning have “led” the band since its inception. When they are on stage, you may deduce that Kevin has some leadership but you might not pick that up about Brendan. But if you look a little closer, you will see a style with both of them that signals a respectful, even relaxed kind of leadership that isn’t about giving direction, its about setting an example for the qualities of collaboration detailed here. These two model the tenets of collaboration outlined above and hence likely have “led” the band in securing its place as a band with a culture of collaboration at its core.
Implications for Fostering Collaboration in the Workplace:
- Change Physical Position: At work, do you find you often use the same meeting room, sit in a similar position within that meeting room, sit yourself close to the same people, have people come to your office for meetings versus going to theirs? Do you or others gravitate to similar recurring physical places at work? Mix that up. A change in physical position changes perspective, often only in little ways, but it contributes to keeping us open-minded, sharp and fresh in reacting to new situations.
- Erase Hierarchy of Role: This to me is the future of work. Just as a singer is a singer, it’ll be important in work that a writer is a writer. Sure, each writer has different levels of experience and likely different natural areas of strength. But a writer must be a writer. Hierarchy is redundant in this day and age. It slows us down and keeps us working in old, stuck ways. Consider your office workers as a pool of talent, and learn to apply that talent where it’s best suited. That will be the difference between leadership and management. Management needs hierarchy. Leadership doesn’t.
- Bring New Members In: This is such an immediate opportunity for growth of collaboration in the workplace. Bring new members into projects. This will require collaboration within the team while also bringing in new perspectives. Here’s the trick on bringing in new members: Keep the majority of the team consistent, so that the new member is a ‘spice’ in the recipe not the flour. And for this to work, no hierarchy and strong leadership works best.
- Technical Capability across Multiple Roles: Teams might be able to work more collaboratively with members who, while they may be specialists, have a generalist understanding. Collaboration works best when the writer has an understanding of art direction, and the ability to think strategically, is technologically current and has a good client service attitude. While the primary specialty may be in writing, it works better when members have some ability in the functions of the other team members as well.
- Leadership means Fostering Collaboration: And lastly, if collaboration really matters, and is the key to the future of work, then leadership must be about fostering that collaboration. Leadership becomes less about directing, and definitely much less about managing and much more about modeling. Modeling the tenets of good collaboration and building the infrastructure to foster that.