Hugh Ballou

  Hugh Ballou


Teams are like orchestras. People with different skills and personalities create harmony by playing different notes. We can blend by singing the same note; however, most of the time we need color, dimension, and depth in the sound and the culture.

You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note.

– Doug Floyd

When a musical group creates excellence, it’s called ensemble. When we create high-functioning cultures, it’s the synergy of performance that makes the difference. As Stephen Covey says, synergy is a result that’s greater than the sum of the parts.

The orchestra erases paradigms of culture, race, gender, generation, lifestyle, and other division-creating traps. Musicians replace those learned paradigms with the high-functioning culture of the ensemble. Diversity brings richness to the culture. Vocal groups blend by matching tone, vocal quality, vowel formation, diction, pitch, dynamics and other qualities, but these don’t remove the skill of singing the right notes and producing a pleasing vocal sound. Each performer must step up to excellence for the orchestra or choir to achieve excellence.

Excellence is in diversity. Forget equality. Each person brings diverse excellence to the team.


The instrumental groups in the orchestra (strings, brass, percussion, and woodwinds), bring many differences to music making and contribute as defined by the musical score. Similar traits create harmony in team diversity. It’s the director’s (leader’s) job to create the space for the players to excel and to provide the influence that inspires excellence, as follows.

  • Different personalities: Each orchestral section brings unique qualities to the result: different tone qualities, intensities, tonal colors, and personalities. The brass player has a different view of things than the string player. The strings play more than other sections, but get paid no more. Different personalities add color to the work team and the leader inspires harmony.
  • Different skills: Different instruments require very different skill sets. The percussionist must draw out sound from the instruments when it appears that he or she is banging or striking. Some woodwind players must create and maintain reeds for different instruments. Double-reed oboes and bassoons require very finely crafted reeds to create the type of sound required. There are differences from player to player with the skill of the reeds produced and the ability to play. Teams require different and complementing skills to manage complex operations. When creating or upgrading teams, evaluate skills and competencies as a fit for the culture.
  • Different perspectives: I’m a Boomer. I have different perspectives than a Millennial. Percussion and brass players sit at the rear of the orchestra. Their sound must reach the front of the stage along with that of the players who sit in front of them. There are many ways that participants bring differences in perspective to the group. Strive to build different perspectives into cultures – in age, gender, race, lifestyle and experience, and nationality. Difference in opinion is not a weapon for conflict; it’s a creative tool for viewing the same old thing in a new way.
  • Different framing:Instruments such as a trumpet or clarinet are called transposing instruments. The note in the score might be a C, but the pitch that comes from the instrument is a B-flat, a different note than the one printed. The conductor knows this and makes a mental correction to what is in the score. In team meetings, there are often different framings with response to a question or directive. There’s no standard rule as with a transposing instrument, so it’s up to the leader to manage the situation. It’s important, however, to understand that team players might have a different view of reality than we do.

I’m not suggesting a compromise in quality. In fact, differences create maximum value for the contributions of participants. Leading high-functioning teams is similar to the skill of the conductor who manages many variables while creating excellence through diversity.

Hugh Ballou is President and Founder of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. A musical conductor for forty years, Hugh has written eight books on Transformational Leadership, and works with leaders in religious organizations and nonprofit and business communities as executive coach, process facilitator, trainer, and motivational speaker, teaching the fine-tuned skills employed every day by orchestral conductors.


This article is reprinted from Issue #5 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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