The Gift of Teamwork

Published: May 29, 2011

The task was daunting, the time frame was pressing, and the outcome was magical. Resurrecting a 65 year old musical composition by musicians who had never before sung together for a 45-minute window in a recording studio was the challenge.

The idea began with favors. After stumbling upon a hand-written piece of sheet music written for four-part vocals 65 years ago by an artist now enjoying her days in an assisted living apartment in rural Minnesota, I just needed to locate a baritone, a tenor, an alto, and a soprano. With a visit to the author scheduled for the Memorial Day weekend, a forty-five minute slot was available at Elmhurst College’s Gretsch Recording Studio. The task was clear: find the singers, hope they harmonize, capture the moment, burn it to a CD, and deliver it to the author.

Six degrees of separation were not required to find the musicians and recording technicians. The inspiration of the gift motivated my first two solicitations to blossom into an impromptu team of willing artists. While microphones were being assembled and sound-checked, the four musicians introduced and began practicing. The first take was experimental. The piece had been written with intentional dissonance. “Are you sure she intended a D-sharp here?” queried the alto. The composer’s intent unfolded in the second and third takes. Seemingly disparate notes grew harmonious in the context of the tones that followed. All discord eventually resolved musically. The fourth take was nearly flawless. The fifth take was magic.

The composer had no warning. The recently minted CD along with some photos of the recording session arrived unexpectedly at the assisted living facility. Once the music began playing, her face transformed as she tried to solve the mystery. A look of puzzlement gradually eased into a soft smile as she recognized her creation and savored its expression. A tear formed in her eye as she sorted through the photos. A detailed story of the original composition was shared as we listened again. Mission accomplished.

Teams form for many reasons. This time it was to create a gift for someone who had given her talent to the world. The investment of time and talent was based on generosity. The trust between artists unfolded immediately as they blended their voices to become one. Innovation leaped from this quickly formed foundation of investment and trust. Once the task was complete, goodbyes were exchanged and the participants moved on to new endeavors. Teammates for moment in time.

Amazing teams assemble randomly all the time. Who’s on your team?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.