Saturday, November 12, 2011

Distributed Leadership: The Orpheus Process

The model below I have copy/pasted from Seifter at . It describes a model of distributed leadership as developed by the NYC Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

1. Put power in the hands of the people doing the work.

In recent years, company leaders have heard a common refrain: organizations that empower their workers with true authority and responsibility can expect better products and services, more satisfied customers, and increased revenue and profits. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that many managers have been slow to give up power, in many cases withholding it altogether. According to a Gallup poll of 1,200 U.S. workers, while 66 percent of respondents reported that their managers asked them to get involved in decision making within their organizations, only 14 percent of these same workers reported that they felt they had actually been given real authority.

According to double-bass player Don Palma, a member since the group's founding in 1972, the difference between working in Orpheus and working in a traditional orchestra is dramatic. Says Palma, "I took one year off from Orpheus at the very beginning and went to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I just hated it. I didn't like to be told what to do all the time, being treated like I wasn't really worth anything other than to be a good soldier and just sit there and do as I was told. I felt powerless to affect things, particularly when they were not going well. I felt frustrated, and there was nothing I could seem to do to help make things better. Orpheus keeps me involved. I have some measure of participation in the direction the music is going to take. I think that's why a lot of us have stayed involved for so long."

Unlike most orchestras, whose conductors wield full and unquestioned authority over the musicians playing under their baton, Orpheus musicians decide for themselves who will lead the group, how a piece of music will be played, who will be invited to join their ranks, and who will represent them on the board of trustees and within management. The group's administrators do not impose their vision on the musicians, and disagreements that cannot be resolved through Orpheus's regular process of discussion and consensus-building are ultimately settled by a vote of all of the members of the orchestra.

2. Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality.

Because Orpheus has no conductor and therefore no single person to take responsibility for the quality of its performances, each member of the orchestra feels a very real and personal responsibility for the group's outcomes. Orpheus gives every individual the opportunity to lead, but it also creates an imperative that everyone pull together. Instead of focusing solely on perfecting their own approach to performance, each musician takes a personal interest in perfecting the performances of their colleagues and the overall sound of the orchestra. It is therefore not uncommon for a violinist to comment on the playing of a flutist, or the timpani player to comment on a cellist's approach to phrasing or bowing. In a regular, conducted orchestra, not only would such crossing of organizational lines be unwelcome, it would be unthinkable.

3. Create clarity of roles.

While leadership within Orpheus is not fixed with any one particular person or position, the organization's members have clear roles in addition to their jobs as musicians, administrators, or members of the board of trustees. For each piece of music, for example, the musicians elect one person to serve as concertmaster, the person appointed to lead the group in rehearsal and performance. Some members of the orchestra serve on the board, others represent the musicians within the group's administration, and still others participate in formal and informal teams. All roles are communicated widely throughout the organization.

4. Foster horizontal teamwork.

Says Peter Drucker, "No knowledge ranks higher than another; each is judged by its contribution to the common task rather than by any inherent superiority or inferiority. Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team."

Because no one person has all the answers to every question that may arise within the orchestra, Orpheus relies on horizontal teams -- both formal and informal -- to tap the expertise of all of its members. These teams are horizontal because members are not artificially limited to focusing their attention on only very narrow issues or opportunities; members of teams within Orpheus naturally reach across organizational boundaries to obtain input, act on opportunities, solve problems, or make decisions. Says violinist Martha Caplin, "We're all specialists, that's the beginning of the discussion. When I talk to another performer or another musician in the group, it's on an equal level. It's absolutely crucial that we all have that attitude."

Not every team is an effective team.

Leaders should be aware that not every team is an effective team, and they must work to ensure that the members of teams take positive steps to ensure their own effectiveness. John Lubans, deputy university librarian at Duke University, has studied Orpheus's workings, and in a report published in the Duke University Libraries Information Bulletin in 1997, he cites a variety of reasons for why teamwork is effective within the group. He notes that the purpose and mission for the team are clear and understood by each team member; members' team roles are stated, agreed upon, and understood; all members work an equal amount doing real work in the team; members pay attention to how they work together; outcomes drive the purpose of the team; deadlines are stated and respected; teams receive demonstrable support; teams are accountable to the organization and its leaders; and each team knows its interdependence with other teams and does everything to support those other teams. These rules are valid for any team, not just those within Orpheus.

5. Share and rotate leadership

In most organizations leadership is fixed, that is, leadership authority is formally vested in certain positions and not in others. Managers are by definition leaders and workers are expected to be followers. The higher up the organization chart an individual's position resides, the more power he or she wields. Fixing leadership in positions rather than in people wastes the leadership potential within employees whose positions are not a part of the organization's formal leadership hierarchy. This potential is often ignored or discarded, and occasionally punished.

Sharing and rotating leadership among all the orchestra's musicians is the heart and soul of the Orpheus Process. While most orchestras fix leadership authority within one particular position, the conductor, Orpheus takes a different approach. Whenever the orchestra decides to take on a new piece of music, the group appoints one of its members to lead the development of the piece. The leader is selected on the basis of what skills and knowledge he or she brings to the piece -- someone who is expert in baroque music will be selected to lead a Handel selection, someone who is particularly knowledgeable about twentieth century composers will take on a Stravinsky piece. In this way, leadership is shared and rotated among the different members of the group, and the strengths of individual members of the group are brought to the fore.

6. Learn to listen, learn to talk.

The members of Orpheus know the power of communication, and it is the lifeblood of the organization. Not only are members expected to listen to one another's views and opinions, and to respect what is said and the person who said it -- whether or not they agree with what is being said -- members are also expected to talk. But there is a right time and a wrong time to talk. According to Orpheus violinist Eriko Sato, "Fundamentally, I don't think everybody's opinion should be addressed at all times. There are certain places and times for certain things to be said -- the appropriate moment. Everybody knows what's wrong, everybody can feel what's wrong -- but do you have a solution? Do you know how to solve a problem?"

No topic is considered out of bounds for the members of the group, and constructive criticism is always welcome. This freedom of expression is surprising when one realizes that orchestral musicians are trained from an early age specifically not to offer their opinions to the group and instead to defer to the direction of the conductor. Few conductors welcome the suggestions of the musicians working under their baton, most actively discourage them. In Orpheus, two-way communication is expected, fostered, and reinforced almost constantly.

7. Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus).

As an increasing number and variety of employees become involved in their organizations' decision-making processes, and as organizations become less autocratic and more democratic, achieving consensus on decisions becomes more important. Consensus, which derives from the Latin word for "shared thought," requires a high level of participation and trust among the members of an organization. Employees must be willing to listen to the views of others and to be flexible and willing to compromise on their own positions.

Traditionally, as the importance of a decision increases, the number of people involved in it decreases in direct proportion. An organization's most important decisions are most often made by its top management team, usually without input from line workers. This is most certainly not the case in Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In Orpheus, the more important the decision to the organization, the more people are involved in it. But involving more people in the process doesn't dilute the final result, it strengthens it. Violinist Ronnie Bauch is quoted in Christopher Hoenig's The Problem Solving Journey saying, "What you get isn't a watered-down, middle-of-the-road kind of interpretation which you could easily imagine -- you know, General Motors decides to interpret music -- but you get interpretations of extraordinary originality."

In an organization such as Orpheus where positional power is minimal, and where leadership is not fixed, the ability of leaders to build consensus and to convince others to support their opinions is paramount. Without consensus, little can be accomplished in the organization.

8. Dedicate passionately to your mission.

Passion is the spark that can make an ordinary organization great -- and a great organization truly exceptional. When employees are passionate about the jobs they do, the organizations they work for, and the customers they serve, there is little that they cannot accomplish.

This passion, however, sometimes boils over, causing more than a few arguments and heated exchanges. According to violist Nardo Poy in The Problem Solving Journey, "There are times in rehearsal, because of the way we work, the intensity, the directness, often we do get pretty emotional, angry at each other. And yet, when our rehearsal is over, that's pretty much it, for the most part it's over. Either right after rehearsal or the next day, you're still friends." Because musicians in Orpheus feel free to express themselves with one another, resentments and feuds rarely have an opportunity to develop. This results in an environment where all the members of the organization are focused on one thing: producing the very best product possible.

A measure of the passion that Orpheus's members feel for their organization is the fact that although the majority of them also play for other groups, including the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, and teach at schools such as Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, they consider playing for Orpheus to be their most fulfilling musical experience.

By removing the position of conductor from the organization, New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has unleashed an incredible amount of leadership from its members. While the organization and its structures keep evolving, this Grammy-award-winning group continues to perform at the top of its game -- a level of excellence that few other orchestras can approach. And, as long as Orpheus relies on its own members to guide and energize the group, it's likely that this will be the case for many years to come.

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