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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inspiration from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Recently I reread parts of the book Leadership Ensemble – Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra, and I remain to be intrigued.

In the world of traditional orchestras, where the board of trustees, administrative management, and of course the conductor play key roles in determining strategic direction, project selection, and resource allocation, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has arranged things a little different  and it sure performs differently. The musicians of Orpheus participate in all areas of organizational decision making. The structure of Orpheus reflects the power of musicians. The structure of Orpheus also reflects principles like passionate dedication to mission, shared and rotated leadership, and clarity of roles which all have proven very fruitful.

Orpheus was founded in 1972 by cellist Julian Fifer and fellow musicians. They all aspired to perform a diverse orchestral repertoire using chamber music ensemble techniques and self-governing techniques. Orpheus is one of the few self-governing ensembles playing today.

Orpheus performs without the usually all-powerful conductor and rotates musical leadership roles for each work. The Orchestra strives to empower its musicians by integrating them into almost every facet of the organization, literally changing the way the world thinks about musicians, conductors, and orchestras. And, about leadership.

The orchestra’s success is founded on eight principles that I will briefly mention and that are meant to help you contemplate, and if necessary re-think and revise your leadership beliefs and practices:

Principle 1: Put power in the hands of the people doing the work. Key words: power, decision-making authority and realizing people’s full potential.

Principle 2: Encourage individual responsibility. Key is that every individual takes the initiative to resolve issues.

Principle 3: Create clarity of roles and functions. Key is: avoiding employee conflict, wasted effort, poor morale, and poor products and services.

Principle 4: Share and rotate leadership. Key is valuing and using everyone’s contribution and benefiting from unique skills and experience.

Principle 5: Foster horizontal teamwork. Key words: optimizing personal expertise and individual responsibility.

Principle 6:  Learn to listen, learn to talk. Key is listening actively and intently and speaking directly and honestly.

Principle 7: Seek consensus. Key is that no organization or group can move forward unless its members agree to move together in the same direction at the same time.

Principle 8: Dedicate passionately to your mission. Key is: member-owned mission and passion drives focus, energy, determination, decision, and results.

For more information and inspiration I recommend the book by Harvey Seifter and Peter Economy.  

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