What dysfunctional bands teach us about work culture

AdobeStock_48903240Is one of your favorite bands dysfunctional?

Most bands are dysfunctional to some degree; many to a great degree. The pressures of writing, recording, touring, performing, doing interviews, being away from family and home 24/7 – without a break? That’d bring out the worst in any human.

The list of bands that have experienced meltdowns or breakups is long, including the Beatles, the Temptations, the Eagles, Journey, Arrested Development, Guns ‘N Roses, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Supremes, Aerosmith, Blink-182, Destiny’s Child, and many more.

As a working musician, I’ve seen “band members behaving badly” up close and personal. All organizations, including bands, experience a day-to-day work culture that either operates well or poorly in helping that organization succeed while retaining inspired, talented players.

What gets in the way of band and workplace harmony?

There are three primary drivers of dysfunctional behavior in groups: ego, validation, and demands.

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Egos run amok erode trust, respect, and healthy relationships. Ego drives selfish pride and arrogance. Ego causes people to say great things about themselves and mean things about others. It causes players to take credit for others work. It causes players to exclude others and only include people that support their huge egos.

Incivility is entirely too common in our workplaces around the globe. Researcher Christine Porath found that 98 percent of employees have experienced uncivil treatment at work.

Validation is a basic human need. We want to know we’re contributing to something meaningful. We want to feel strongly valued – yet only 21 percent of employees do feel strongly valued at work (TinyPulse).

If we get the validation we seek, we are more likely to proactively solve problems, to validate others through praise and encouragement, and to invest in cooperative teamwork. If we don’t get the validation we seek, we withhold information, we set up others to fail, we take credit and give blame.

Demands in a band grow exponentially with the band’s success. Most musicians didn’t get into music to be famous or wealthy. Most musicians are inspired by the art, the communication of ideas, the feeling of inspiring others through music.

The demands that touring, performing, etc. place on band members are incredibly stressful. We face similar demands at work – long hours, increasing workload, covering for someone who has not done a job well (or at all), working hard while being paid less than others in similar roles, etc. These demands sap our spirit, our energy, and our ability to respond “at our best.”

If we learn anything from these dysfunctional bands, it’s that we must be intentional about how we want people to behave – how we want people to treat each other – at work.

A powerful, positive, productive culture – in a band or at work – doesn’t happen by default. Leaders must specify how people are expected to treat each other – by outlining behaviors that will maintain civil relationships day to day.

In our Denver-based band, we have an organizational constitution that describes how every band member is expected to behave. Our expectations include things like being prepared, skilled in our instrumental and vocal parts so we perform effectively together. Loading gear in our trailer, unloading on site, setting up the stage (PA, lighting, effects, etc.). Tearing down the stage after the show requires everyone’s attention, even after 12 hour days . . . all while being kind and graceful with our bandmates.

With such specific behavioral expectations, we all know what’s required of us – and we proactively model those behaviors. When a bandmate doesn’t behave according to expectations, we can inquire what’s going on and re-direct where needed.

Workplace leaders must do the same thing: be very specific about the behaviors they wish people to demonstrate to ensure trustful, respectful treatment in every interaction. Once those expectations are formalized, it’s easy for everyone to embrace those behaviors – and be kind, validate others, and give credit where its due.

Gather talented, engaged players. Honor their efforts. Challenge them to perform together. Don’t let them carry any burdens with anyone. Praise and encourage ideas, efforts, and accomplishment.

You just might make beautiful music together!

How well does your work team manage egos, validation needs, and demands? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © beeboys – Adobe Stock. All rights reserved.

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