Encouraging Community: How music & rhythm can develop commonality

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Photo courtesy of Steve Vinick.

“Team-building” has become quite an overused term these days. If you’ve worked in a large or mid-size company, nonprofit organization, or community business, then you may have participated in your share of diversity seminars, sensitivity trainings, or group morale-boosting activities. My first experience with this was 10 years ago, during one of my first “grown-up jobs” working for My Gym Children’s Fitness Center. We did the high and low ropes course team-building that many people probably know. I was not a fan of heights at the time. My anxiety at climbing high trees to walk across tightropes was not allayed by my co-workers’ verbal encouragement. Instead, the more I was encouraged to try it, the less I wanted to. By the end of the day I had retreated into my shell.

But team-building doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be intimidating, physically demanding, or catering to people with specific talents or abilities. When I mention to people that I’m an interactive rhythm facilitator, some people shy away and claim no musical ability, or cite negative childhood music experiences. Well, guess what – none of us has to be a musician to bond with our co-workers. I promise! Here are 3 ways that music and rhythm can help us overcome differences and encourage bonding in the workplace.

  1. We’re all in this together

You just walked into the conference room and eyed the 150 various drums set up around a circle of chairs. Even if some of your co-workers are musicians, chances are they don’t know what’s about to happen with these drums any more than you do. Your boss doesn’t actually expect you to play them, does she?

That’s the cool thing about team-building with music and rhythm (many facilitators call it “in-the-moment music-making”). No one – not even me, the facilitator – can know exactly what type of music will result from this session, so we’re all on an even keel. I plan a road map of activities and discussions based on the objectives discussed with me by your boss; you, the employees, have the ability to take this session wherever you want. If you want to jam out, then jam out. If people want to dance, then dance. If you’re interested in talking about workplace experiences, then we’ll relate the music experience to what’s going on at work. My job is to help all of you create musical moments that translate into real-life situations. That means it’s not a performance: everything won’t sound perfect, just like people don’t always communicate exactly what they’re trying to say. But we go through the process together.

  1. “Hey, I didn’t know Jim was so great at that!”

All that being said, the rhythm circle is a great way for people to showcase abilities that their co-workers didn’t know they had. This allows people to see what natural strengths others bring to the team that can also be utilized on the job. Jim held down a steady bass beat while everyone jammed? He might be a reliable person to count on during your next project. Marie and Susan got up and danced? No performance anxiety there! Maybe they’d be great people to talk up the key points for an upcoming proposal. Even someone who appears to be a “rhythm dork” (as experienced facilitator Arthur Hull so lovingly puts it) might turn out to be the one to offer insightful suggestions for improving communication during the workshop. Even just sharing a smile with your co-worker across the circle can have a positive impact and help you realize there’s some common ground.

What I love about my job is that I never know what the power of rhythm will bring to the surface for people, and it’s amazing to see them empower themselves and each other during the workshops. Many times they discover a skill or talent they had thought was long gone or didn’t know they had – and realize they can still make use of it. This can help take your upcoming project/account/proposal/task to the next level, and instill confidence for your whole team.

  1. Become a metaphor master

Most potential clients want to know how banging on a drum for an hour and a half can possibly help them become better at a particular set of skills in the workplace. The key is all about creating metaphors for work and life during the workshop. Let’s say we do an exercise where each person has to ‘pass the beat’ around the room, so that everyone gets a turn to play it. It’s kind of like the “wave” in stadiums at sports events. We’ll go through it once and see how each person ‘passed’ it – did they rush through it or take their time? Did they wait until the person before them was finished? Did they listen to what the person before/after them played? These are observations anyone can make during the exercise, which can facilitate a discussion afterward on how the group could improve its efficiency/speed/attention while passing the beat around the room. Are those attributes that are valued in the workplace? Of course! Bringing them to the surface in a safe and non-threatening environment like the drum workshop can offer a great opportunity for employees to discuss issues with each other and make constructive suggestions. It’s all about the metaphors baby!

The great equalizer

Music truly is the great equalizer when it comes to team-building. No matter what your background, language, department, skills, or interests, music and rhythm are accessible to all. Health Rhythms® facilitators like to say, “If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm.” In fact, many times when we introduce drumming to people, the first rhythm we play on the drum is the heartbeat. When we take away job titles, role expectations, and hierarchies, we level the playing field and invite a new understanding of ourselves and our co-workers.

Looking at it from a worldview perspective, Dr. Max Bendiner makes a hopeful point: “Music may achieve the highest of all missions: she may be a bond between nations, races, and states, who are strangers in many ways; she may unite what is disunited and bring peace to what is hostile.


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