Management Ensembles

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to Jazz Alley in Seattle to see the jazz vocal ensemble Manhattan Transfer.  We’ve seen them several times before and they always put on a great show.

Manhattan Transfer features four vocalists – Alan Paul, Tim Hauser, Janis Siegel, and Cheryl Bentyne.  Interestingly (at least to me), Alan Paul played the Teen Angel in the original Broadway cast of Grease and, in that role, was the original performer of the songs Beauty School Dropout and Born to Hand Jive. As a child, he was also in the original Broadway cast of Oliver! [I realize as I write this paragraph that I’ve been remiss in including musical theatre references in these blog posts!]

The four of them have been singing together as Manhattan Transfer for more than 30 years and their comfort with each other is evident.  At different times throughout the concert, I noticed the easy interaction between the different combinations of performers.  When Alan and Tim sang together, the connection between the two men presented a contrast to how each of them interacted with either Janis or Cheryl.  Similarly, duets with the two women presented a completely different view of their personalities and singing styles.  In addition, I noticed that each of the four made a special effort to acknowledge and recognize their supporting performers – the pianist (and music director), the percussionist, the guitarist, and the bassist.  I was particularly touched by their genuine appreciation for those other musicians.

After the concert, I thought about the interactions among those ensemble members and realized that it’s similar to the interactions among the members of our management team.  There are six of us – Morris (CEO), Doug (CFO), David (EVP of Sales and Marketing), Jan (VP of Professional Services), Pat and me (both VP’s of Engineering).  Each of us has different responsibilities, with different strengths and experience.  We rely on each other in very different ways for advice, coordination, and responsibility sharing.  [Sadly, we have zero Broadway credits in the backgrounds of our management ensemble.]

We’ve been working together, in our current roles, for nearly seven years (which, in today’s business world is an eternity).  When we’re all together, there are generally accepted roles that we’re accustomed to – some of them are explicit, based on our job responsibilities while others are implicit, based on our skills and strengths and previous experiences together.  When we work one-on-one, I recognize that my own interactions with Pat (for example) are very different from how I relate with Jan, Doug, David, or Morris.  Naturally, there are exchanges between the others that don’t involve me at all.

In the end, I realized that much of what makes a musical ensemble successful is similar to what it takes for a management team to succeed:

  • Talented individual members, who are capable and skilled on their own
  • Complementary skills, so that individuals can rely on (and trust) each other
  • Unique one-on-one relationships among various combinations of team members (and with the rest of the organization)

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Building a successful management team goes beyond just talent – interactions among the managers on that team are critical.

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