Taking Those Tests

Speakers Needed

Stopping Smoking

Corporate Angels

Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the December 4, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Team Building: Moving Forward In Harmony — Saragail

Benjamin

American business is sometimes accused of petrified

hierarchy. Corporations are among the last institutions to embrace

ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity. Workplace dress codes still

are more stringent than those at church or any other sector of our

lives. And few experience any environs where rank is so defined or

new suggestions so suspect. Now add to this the insecurity of a merger

upheaval. Somehow, if this thing called business is going to work,

we have got to get back to being people — unthreatened,

cooperative

individuals. Could music be the answer? Can a circle of workers

banging

on drums and bells provide vision?

Those managers adventurous (or desperate) enough to seek a tuneful

solution to corporate harmony are invited to "The Music of

Business"

on Thursday, December 12, at 5:30 p.m. at the Bloomberg Financial

offices in Skillman. Cost: $40. Call 609-279-4818. Sponsored by the

Mid-New Jersey chapter of the American Society for Training and

Development

(ASTD), the event features Saragail Benjamin, who has focused

her talents on formulating practical business solutions

(www.themusicofbusiness.com).

The Mid-New Jersey Chapter of the ASTD is a professional network and

resource organization comprised of both individual consulting firms

and corporate managers responsible for staff training and education.

Their national link affords members a global array of corporate

instruction

on everything from conflict management techniques imported from Israel

to O.S.H.A. compliance in various industries and regions. For an

events

calendar and membership procedure go to www.MidNJASTD.org.

"Basically every business client wants the same things: more

productivity

and more money," says Benjamin. "Question is, how do you

achieve

this?" Old fashion greed alone does not produce efficiency. It

may urge individuals to go the extra mile, but it doesn’t persuade

folks to cooperate, or to be tolerant of new ideas, particularly from

workmates. While Benjamin’s solutions may first seem somewhere between

looney and fanciful, they have resulted from long years of expert

study with a full range of methods.

Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, under the tutelage of a piano playing

father, ballroom dancing mother, and duet-singing dog, Benjamin came

east to study literature and social anthropology at Sarah Lawrence

University. Upon graduating she joined several firms experimenting

with more traditional training and team-building methods. Yet all

the while, she explored a variety of artistic expressions. Trained

in opera, she began performing, then composing, then mounting large

musical theater productions that she had scripted. She became a jazz

piano player in the Manhattan club scene, and wrote several

well-received

children’s books, such as the popular My Dog Ate It. Finally she made

the connection: "I saw the marvelous teamwork that came out of

theater and music and decided that the business realm could use a

lot of this."

Benjamin founded her New Rochelle, New York-based firm, the Music

of Business, and began helping individuals in the workplace set up

a nicer and infinitely more efficient environment in which to create.

Most of her workplace solutions are not new. For the past decade they

have been shouted at employees by loudly sincere consultants who give

the "You should…" pep talk, fold their easels, and go home.

The problem is that management does not walk the talk, says Benjamin.

Every company now preaches some combination of teamwork, giving up

control, an end to micromanaging, listening to worker suggestions,

employees taking responsibility etc., etc. Yet in most firms these

excellent ideas remain unapplied because their concepts are too

abstract.

Using the analogy of music, Benjamin descends from the mount, stops

preaching solutions, and lets the workers discover them, individually

and as a group. In sessions lasting from two hours to several days,

employees are brought together, each given a simple percussive

instrument,

and taught to make music — together. It is said that no one argues

with his own data. The truths discovered in these musical sessions,

and the obvious workplace analogies, grow poignant as they are

experienced

by the entire group.

Listening. "It is impossible to do the job of making

music and not listen to one another," says Benjamin. Fifteen

people

sitting in a drum circle must each hear and fit in with the sounds

their fellows are making. Listening and following show themselves

to be necessary grease in the wheels of efficient production.

Hierarchy

holds no value here.

Micromanaging. Benjamin helps the group establish a chorus

and lets the beat carry itself for a while. Then she steps in and

conducts with her hands. Using a host of signals she constantly

adjusts

the dynamics, increases, and then slows, the tempo. She cuts one group

out, and brings in another, all at a rapid pace. Eventually the entire

chorus breaks down. "You should see the result," Benjamin

laughs. "Everyone is ticked off at my constant meddling. Then

we chat about micromanaging."

Showboating. Sometimes they are expert musicians or

sometimes

they’re just flamboyant individuals, but almost every group has one

or two folks who will break away to their own beat. The immediate

group reaction may be to smack this troublemaker back into line and

keep homogeneity as king. But Benjamin sees showboating as a positive

energy. She will draw the showboater out and ask her to lead the group

in a rhythm of her own choosing. Then the instructor may burden this

diva with so many fast-paced performances that she becomes worn out.

Happy but tired, she returns to the fold.

Comfort level. Several aspects of this musical seminar

inherently prove soothing. The most basic is sitting in a circle.

"The circle is a great leveler," says Benjamin. "King

Arthur was no fool when he made his knights’ table round." Also

it affords and demands total vision of all participants. The very

sound of rhythmic drum beating not only inspires community, but quells

stress. Dr. Barry Bittman of the Pennsylvania Medical Center has shown

that drum rhythms actually raise the fighting cells in both cancer

and Alzheimer’s patients. The most frequent comment Benjamin receives

is how good participants feel immediately following the sessions.

But business music must provide more than an anti-stress retreat.

Individuals are brought to lead or to perform solos. With this

challenge,

all rank disappears. Frequently the office temp can’t wait to

volunteer

while the CEO stands before his circle a bundle of nerves. The group

must then discover ways to enhance their co-performers’ comfort level.

Creating an idea lab. Sometimes Benjamin will deliberately

skew the beat and afford the group a chance to get things back on

track. "The whole goal is to create a safe learning lab where

ideas are not precious pearls, but things that flow creatively from

everybody," she explains. She firmly believes that the more ideas

you have been soliciting, the more solutions will be hatched.

"Corning

Glass," she says approvingly, "keeps a log of every individual

suggestion made."

When the music finally stops, concrete plans are molded to fulfill

the visions. Perhaps group interviews and recruitment changes are

required to provide a company with employees who take personal

initiative

and still blend well with the team. Changes are listed and hammered

out. But behind all new policies remains the experience. Before his

next plunge into micromanaging, the supervisor may remember the drum

circle, and yield her staff a bit more leeway.

Doubtless, to many bottom liners, this drum banging will seem to be

pure piffle in what should be a restrained business environment. But

as Benjamin explains it, the company that makes music together does

indeed seem more likely to move forward in harmony.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Taking Those Tests

If you have a test coming up — maybe a real estate

agent exam, or even a U.S. Citizenship test — you can take

practice

tests online at libraries in Franklin and Plainsboro townships.

Cardholders

at those libraries can take the tests by logging in from home, and

the general public can access these tests by using a library computer

that connects to the Internet.

Franklin Township Library subscribes to the Learning Express service,

with its more than 300 online practice tests. For students, they

include

the ACT, SAT, and the GED, plus brush-up tests for reading, writing,

math, or grammar. For adults the professional tests include those

for firefighter, police officer, paramedic, EMT, U.S. citizenship,

postal worker, cosmetology, real estate agent, and real estate broker.

All these tests offer scoring and detailed explanations of answers

to the questions. The test results will show where practice is needed

and where free online tutorial courses may be found.

In Plainsboro the online service is Learnatest.com The library is

located in the municipal complex on Schalks Crossing Road. Call

609-275-2897.

Franklin Township Library is located at 485 DeMott Lane in Somerset;

call 732-873-8700.

Top Of Page
Speakers Needed

The Middlesex County Estate Planning Council seeks

speakers for its quarterly meetings. "We want professionals from

the field of law, accounting, life insurance, long term care

insurance,

banking, or financial planning to share ideas and network," says

Kenneth Vercammen, an attorney with offices in Cranbury and Metuchen.

The group meets at Meiling’s restaurant in Metuchen. "Senior

citizen

coordinators and anyone who provides advice to seniors and the elderly

should also attend." Call Vercammen at 732-906-2180.

Top Of Page
Stopping Smoking

The American Cancer Society hopes its new smoking

cessation

service, created for employees at Public Service Enterprise

Group

(PSEG), can be copied by other large companies. Its special telephone

"quitline" operates in cooperation with similar services in

New Jersey and nine other sites. It is available 24 hours a day, seven

days a week and offers free, confidential, one-on-one counseling for

PSEG employees and their families.

The ACS also has trained 65 PSEG employees to be wellness

representatives,

serving as tobacco control coordinators. For information call

800-ACS-2345

or go to www.cancer.org.

Top Of Page
Corporate Angels

Bristol-Myers Squibb has given $15,000 to Deborah Hospital

Foundation to help pay for medical care of Mercer and Middlesex County

residents. It was the company’s 11th annual donation to the 161-bed

teaching hospital in Browns Mills.


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