Leadership Skills / Workforce Development / Change Management

Why your plant is like a rock band

Tom Moriarty says stay in tune and don’t let competing egos threaten the harmony of your organization.

By Tom Moriarty

I have a neighbor, Tim, who is a talented bass guitarist. Not long ago, he got together with three other performers to form a band. In addition to Tim, the band has a lead guitarist, a drummer, and a vocalist. They’ve been playing together for only a short time.

The initial objective for the band was to write original music and sell it over the internet. Everyone was behind the plan; they were all in agreement that they weren’t really interested in playing in clubs or at events. So, they’ve been getting together every week, practicing and getting comfortable with each other’s technique and style of play. As with any other group (an orchestra, a marching band, a sports team, or a work center), everyone needs to be on the same page to make great music, be a great team, or be great at performing work.

Tim mentioned to me that some issues were stirring in the band and have started to become a distraction. The first was that one of the band members has started to make overtures that the group should be playing at venues. His opinion is that playing in front of an audience will enhance their development as a band and might generate more interest for when they get ready to sell their music. Other band members joined the group specifically because they were not going to do club gigs and other events. 

A second issue, which seems to me to be more of a problem, is that different members of the group believe their role is most important. The drummer feels he sets the foundation for any music and lyrics. The lead singer believes he needs to have some latitude and creativity in how the vocals are performed and that the rest of the band needs to adjust to him. The lead guitarist and the bass guitarist feel that their combined sound is most important to the band’s sound.

As Tim was explaining all of this to me, my mind immediately drew a comparison with what goes on in many plants. Operations is like the drummer, believing that it sets the tone for everyone one to follow. The sales and marketing group is like the lead singer, not wanting to be constrained by the other members of the band. The support departments (maintenance, personnel, procurement, etc.), like lead and bass guitar players, know that the other team members (operations, sales and marketing) can’t be successful without them. They all are correct in their beliefs, but as a group they will fail if they can’t recognize and respect the contributions of the other members.

I think that in the end, Tim’s group will work out its differences. If the band can’t work it out, then one or more of the band members will decide it’s not worth their time. Each of the performers is talented and can find other people with whom to play. All four of them have full-time jobs, so none of them is depending on the band’s success for rent money. The band’s success is really not critical in the big picture. 

But if you’re in a plant situation where the team can’t find its sound, the issue is much bigger. I’ve talked before about silos and how they cause inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Like a band, each group within an organization has an important role to play. If it didn’t have a significant role to play, that part of the organization would be dissolved.

Without operations, you can’t produce products or services. Without sales and marketing, you won’t have enough customers to produce for. If you don’t have support services, operations can’t produce, and sales and marketing won’t have good products or services to sell. 

As with a band, the organization must have stated objectives that everyone buys into and that stay consistent over time. As with a band, each member of the organization must recognize and respect the necessity and contributions of other members of the team. 

Start with a strategic plan. State the mission, vision, and core values. The mission provides organizational objectives. The vision states what you aspire to be. Core values identify the need to respect and relate to each other. Next, define roles and responsibilities for each entity so it and others can be reminded of the importance of each function. 

Strategic plans and roles and responsibilities are critical to organizational success. If you lack experience in creating these documents, hire some help to get educated. You can’t make great music without them.