Qualities of the Best Bands

Published: May 2, 2019
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What makes a great band? It’s more than good music that resonates with your feelings. That part is easy. You write and perform songs that use the principles of music theory to generate physical and emotional changes reflecting the mood and message of your audience. Rock, rap, blues, jazz and reggae appeal to certain people at certain times because of the visceral and cognitive response the music generates. But keeping the group that composes and plays the music together requires a much different set of skills.

Look at the careers of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or CSN&Y. While the songwriting chemistry of Lennon and McCartney was prolific, their conflict resulted in a marital separation. On the other hand, the angst between David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young was the glue that kept them together. The Stones just seem to keep rolling through adversity after adversity.

The music industry is filled with stories of brilliant artists who either sustain effective teamwork or succumb to the frailty of human connection. The art that results is often the byproduct of such synergy or disintegration. Many of the world’s best tunes are written about the pain or pleasure of relationships. The bands that thrive follow a simple formula that cycles through repeating stages of investment, trust, innovation and distancing.

Stage 1: Investment

The team acknowledges their circumstances, establishes interaction norms, arrives at consensus about their goal and invites respectful conflict as fuel for growth.

Stage 2: Trust

The team strengthens their connection by collaborating in a culture of psychological safety where accountability is non-negotiable.

Stage 3: Innovation

The team uses the platform of trust as a foundation for exploration and discovery. The differences embraced in the investment stage are harnessed for creativity.

Stage 4: Distancing

The team adapts to the changes in its ecosystem by mourning loss, refueling and embracing their new circumstances. This sets the stage for a new round of investment.

Think about the teams in your circle. What stage best defines your growth? Is your team re-establishing after a change? Are you in the process of building or rebuilding trust? Is your group poised to create something new? Are you navigating a significant change? Every team is in one of these stages and, like most good bands, is trying not to get stuck. The challenge is to keep moving from one stage to the next, cycle after cycle.

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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.