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
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,
individuals. Could music be the answer? Can a circle of workers
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
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
(ASTD), the event features
her talents on formulating practical business solutions
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
on everything from conflict management techniques imported from Israel
to O.S.H.A. compliance in various industries and regions. For an
calendar and membership procedure go to www.MidNJASTD.org.
"Basically every business client wants the same things: more
and more money," says Benjamin. "Question is, how do you
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
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
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
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
by the entire group.
music and not listen to one another," says Benjamin. Fifteen
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.
holds no value here.
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
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."
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.
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
all rank disappears. Frequently the office temp can’t wait to
while the CEO stands before his circle a bundle of nerves. The group
must then discover ways to enhance their co-performers’ comfort level.
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.
Glass," she says approvingly, "keeps a log of every individual
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
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
If you have a test coming up — maybe a real estate
agent exam, or even a U.S. Citizenship test — you can take
tests online at libraries in Franklin and Plainsboro townships.
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
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
Franklin Township Library is located at 485 DeMott Lane in Somerset;
speakers for its quarterly meetings. "We want professionals from
the field of law, accounting, life insurance, long term care
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
coordinators and anyone who provides advice to seniors and the elderly
should also attend." Call Vercammen at 732-906-2180.
The American Cancer Society hopes its new smoking
service, created for employees at
(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
serving as tobacco control coordinators. For information call
or go to www.cancer.org.
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.
Corrections or additions?
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