What does your development team look like? Have you ever thought of treating it as a jazz band? Kenneth Norton wrote about this interesting analogy, which was originally described by Frank Barrett in the book Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz.
Setting boundaries, allowing freedom
If proponents of micromanagement would conduct an orchestra, they would predetermine the exact notes each musician should play. But jazz is different. There is a chord scheme that sketches the global idea of what the band is going to play. This means that some boundaries are set, so all musicians have something to hold onto and know what they are working towards. Within these boundaries, however, there is a vast grey area that leaves lots of room for creativity and improvisation.
The longer you think about it, the more sense it makes. You can’t tell the trumpet player how to play his instrument; after all, you don’t know it like he does. Similarly, you are not capable of showing the percussionist how to work the sticks. You simply trust your musicians, because they know what they are doing. By allowing them freedom to experiment, perform solos, and explore uncharted musical territory, you enable them to create added value and elevate each musical piece to a higher level.
It’s all about harmony
Now let’s translate this to development. A team with great communication skills does not have to meet over every decision. If team members, like musicians in a jazz band, listen carefully to what others are doing, they will be able to align their actions. If they are free to experiment, knowing that the others will work towards the same goal and even cover for them should they play a ‘false note,’ they will unleash their creative juices and talent to create something truly unique and valuable.
Author: Antoine Talen