My younger son Arden loves acting and for the last two-and-a-half years his mom and I have taken him to classes, rehearsals and auditions. As he got better and was able to take parts in professional theater productions, like his latest role in The Old Globe Theatre Company's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," for the first time in my life I got exposed to how these productions run. Up until then, I did not understand why theater companies are called "companies."
But, as I grew to appreciate these intricate productions, I could see how they deserve the moniker of a company. They share many similarities with small businesses, and they have some valuable lessons to teach the business community, like these five things:
1. You need a dedicated team.
In every play there are lead, supporting and background roles. Then there is the backstage crew that takes care of the costumes, lights, sound, and more. Everyone has a crucial function to play and everyone doing their job creates a feeling of comradery. If the sets aren't right or the makeup is unconvincing or the lighting is off, the production doesn't work. All moving parts have to come together to make the whole.
There is no bigger lesson for businesses than this. If you want your company to succeed, you have to make your company a team. Without that, there is no way to have long lasting success, even if you have the best technology or product.
2. Everyone needs to know their part and pay attention to their cues.
Each cast and crew member is responsible for their part, and not only do they have to know their parts, they have to know their cues. It is up to the director and stage manager to make sure that everyone is ready to hit the stage each night.
In business, that is exactly what leadership is responsible for. If your team does not know what they are doing or when and how they're supposed to do it, that means you've failed. Not only do employees need to know their immediate job description and roles, they also need to know how they fit into the bigger picture.
3. There must be respect for the process and trust in the leader.
From the outside looking in, I always thought of theater companies as being easy going, almost lackadaisical places. In fact, they're just the opposite. They're highly disciplined, almost regimented places. The strict processes they follow would actually beat out many of the tech companies I have seen.
Theater team members know the director is the captain of the ship they have to follow his/her lead. They show up when they are supposed to and do not leave till they are told they can. If the director or stage manager tells them to do something in a specific way, they may give their feedback, but they do it in the way they were instructed.
No individual team member is bigger than the team, and everyone works towards the same end goal. So, they respect the process that will get them there. Otherwise they cannot deliver the firm due dates they have to operate with. If a play is supposed to open on a certain date, it will open on that date, no excuses.
In business, we often have more leeway for errors and delays, but we should always be striving to hit deadlines by following the processes laid out for us and trusting in leadership.
4. There is no shortcut to success.
Great shows require a tremendous amount of time and sacrifice and a ridiculous number of repetitions. Just like in business, there is no shortcut to success. The play could be well written, the production could be done in a beautiful theater and it could be well promoted, the costumes, sound and lighting could bring the play to life and the actors could deliver their performances flawlessly the way the director envisioned it, but for all that to happen, it must be practiced to perfection.
Similarly in business, you could have a great product or service, excellent marketing and sales, outstanding operations and manufacturing, superb customer service and amazing business management, but it simply won't get that way without a lot of dedication and a lot of trial and error.
5. Everyone has to love what they do.
With countless hours of rehearsal, impossible amounts of memorization, and hours upon hours of waiting, and then doing it over and over once everything is perfected, you have to really love the theater to stick with it. It's not something that you could do successfully without a lot of passion.
If you don't truly love what your business does, you will suffer. You can't fake passion. Next time you go to the theater and everyone comes out for a bow at the end, clap extra hard for them. They're just like you and that production you just finished enjoying is just like your business.