Gareth Malone has begun a new series of The Choir on the BBC. Building on his success of creating a Military Wives choir last year, he is visiting different employers, drumming up support for workplace choirs. In an edited hour comes a distillation of everything it takes to build great team work. In one episode he visits Manchester airport with a view to creating a choir that will take part in a nationwide choral competition.
Gareth leads with a direct style punctuated with warm good humour. He’s clear about what he wants and what he expects. The show pictures him auditioning those singers with potential. He enrols the choir in his bold goal, reassuring them of his faith in them all and unperturbed by messy early rehearsals, helps the choir find its voice, focusing his energy on making sure they have the skill they need to deliver.
We see him identifying and working with his rising stars, two soloists, and reigning in the exuberance and power of an enormously energetic group who have more experience in karaoke than the subtly of choral harmony,
Experiencing success as it performs for an impromptu first time in the Arrivals Hall, we watch as Gareth sets the choir greater challenges. Each challenge is designed to be only just, with plenty of practice and determination, within reach. Each one is slightly bigger than before, created to ensure a quick gasp of nerves as adrenalin kicks in and, with a common sense of purpose, galvanises them succeed.
He doesn’t shirk from tough feedback and brings in one of the competition judges for an early preview so that the choir can get feedback straight from the horse’s mouth. He sensitively attends to individual concerns and needs, digging deeper to find out more. When one of the soloist’s body becomes tense, causing her to breath awkwardly between notes, he finds out that she is still recovering from surgery and that the choir forms part of her rehabilitation to work. He’s with them every step of the way but when they have performed to a bigger audience of friends and colleagues, their largest audience so far, he encourages them to look up, out and smile. The message is: you no longer need to rely on me. I’ll be there if you need me. Trust yourselves and enjoy. In the hugs, high fives, and cheers at the end, it’s evident that the choir has come a long way and is ready to celebrate success.
So, Gareth models how to pull together a team. This is almost a text book case study of how to get the best from a disparate group. Yet, the thing that leaps out at me as I watch is how much the choir want and choose to belong. Barriers are breaking down. “We are speaking to colleagues we have never met, let alone spoken to before”, say the choir members, smiling with joy and with a tone of disbelief. It is a place to be together. It is no longer Gareth’s choir project; it is “our choir”.
How many of us want to belong? It’s an unfashionable concept at work where re-organisations, mergers and redundancies have often left people wary of values such as loyalty and belonging and maybe it’s a concept that we, as leaders, need to take a second look at.