It's the increasingly complex conundrum every business leader faces--great productivity and profit both require happy workers, but how in the world do you get those?
As in, a good old-fashioned choir.
In an article for Big Think, Matt Davis notes that some of the world's most influential companies--including Google, Facebook and LinkedIn--are forming choirs at a surprising rate. Managers are turning to these groups in part because they can encourage creativity, cognition and cohesion/social bonding. And choir singing also is connected to a myriad of health benefits, such as reducing depression and supporting respiratory wellness. These have quantifiable value for the bottom line when assessed in terms of sick days or trouble focusing.
And that's all before you consider elements like discipline, or the ability to step up in real leadership--you don't have to be the choir director to lead, as there are other opportunities for that (e.g., marketing concerts, making sure the rehearsal space is ready, etc.).
But let's pan out for a second.
Why employees really sign up to sing
As a double music major, I've stood in more choir rehearsals and concerts than I can count. And I can testify that, while the science on what music does to the body and group is pretty wild, music is also...
Singing--and music-making in general--is powerful largely because it connects so strongly to emotional experience. Sometimes this hurts. There are still some songs I can't listen to anymore, for example, because they remind me of my mother, who passed away.
But music can tie wonderfully to the emotional experience of peace, too.
It can stir a feeling that no matter how stressful the day was, no matter what might have been on the news, no matter how much you've got left in your bank account, there's still some semblance of harmony.
It is the gleam of a righteous sword when you're tired and think the battle is lost.
It is relief and triumph when chaos has almost broken you.
It is hope.
And that is why workers actually sign up to participate in company or independent choirs. With stress and mental health struggles being very real, they don't want just better posture, temporary calm, to make the company look better, or the chance to go out to eat afterward with a new buddy. Just as they want a deep sense of purpose, they also want a basic--but long-lasting--reassurance that the world isn't all impossibly dark, that there are others who ache and fight and enjoy and want exactly the same. They want evidence not only that there is good still left, but that they can access it. And they want to do their small part to bring that healing beauty to somebody else.
How to create your own choir
Understanding how profound participating in a choir can be for team members, it's actually incredibly easy to start your own.
- Decide who can participate. Some businesses allow anyone who's willing to join their choirs, emphasizing that the group is for fun. But if you want to be more formal or you've got a lot of people on your team, you'll want to hold auditions to determine skill and what part each person can sing best (e.g., high voice, low voice).
- Find someone to lead the group. The conductor doesn't need to have a music degree or a lifetime of music experience, although it's great if you can find that. They simply have to understand music basics, master a few beat patterns, and be comfortable cuing different sections of the group to come in at the right time.
- Figure out what kind of music your group will sing. This depends a lot on who joins. For example, if everyone is a music novice, songs where everyone sings the melody together in unison might be best. But if you've got people with a good musical ear who can hold their own line, you can choose harder music with multiple parts. Just try to get a balance between parts--you don't want seventeen sopranos and one bass, for instance. Then consider specific genres, such as pop, classical or jazz. It can be incredibly meaningful to choose pieces that connect to the company vision or something else important to the group.
- Handle the logistics. For example, where will you rehearse? Will you simply print off public domain music from the Internet, or will singers have to buy music? Will you provide recordings singers can use at home to practice? Will you wear traditional black concert attire to perform, or will you do something like khakis and a nice shirt of a specified color (maybe have ones made with your logo)? When will everyone get together and for how long? If there isn't a good spot at the office to rehearse, call around to local community centers and churches. Some will charge nominal fees, but others are willing to offer space for free in exchange for being publicized as a sponsor.
- Advertise. Recruit people to join through word of mouth, memos, emails or whatever means is appropriate. Be available, not pushy, and be clear about what you want to achieve with the group.
- Rehearse and perform. A good schedule for rehearsal is once or twice a week. Many companies allow multiple practice times to accommodate different shifts. But you'll still want to have a few mandatory rehearsals so everyone has a sense of the full balance and scope of the group.
Performances can be formal, but organizations like nursing homes, baseball games and similar events offer great opportunities, too. Another option is for the choir to acknowledge visiting groups or others significant to your company. You also can coordinate with local charities and take donations for different causes. Don't forget to live stream or post videos and releases on platforms like social media and YouTube!
As globalization in business becomes the norm, don't lose sight of the fact that music is called the universal language for good reason. Let it bring your people together and offer them joy. You're almost ensured to see their thanks in how they perform and stay with you.