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Posted 1.28.13

To illustrate the importance of team dynamics, John Paul Stephens, PhD, invited an unusual group of guests to his class on Managing Organizations and People (MGMT 250). The Cavani String Quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music, led the class in a series of exercises [ Listen to one of their exercises ] designed to promote communication among team members.

The four musicians (two violinists, a violist and a cellist) explained that chamber groups are defined, among other criteria, by having no conductor. They played Antonín Dvorák’s American String Quartet for the class, then discussed the behind-the-scenes work necessary for a successful performance. 

“Even though we’ve played this piece over 500 times, we still rehearse it the day before,” said cellist Mary Peckham. The four musicians know the notes in the score by heart, but maintaining a unified sound requires constant vigilance. Having no conductor places the burden on each musician to watch and listen carefully to what her colleagues are doing while maintaining focus on her own part. Violinist Annie Fullard explained that they try to maintain eye contact and even to breathe together. Each member of the quartet makes constant, subtle readjustments to remain in harmony with the others; the goal, they said, is to make the group sound like one instrument. 

The class tried exercises designed to strengthen a musical group’s cohesion. In one exercise, the musicians demonstrated what they called “chamber music aerobics.” The quartet and the class became “human metronomes,” swaying from side to side, and then front and back, in time to music. Four students who work as a team (dubbed “Team Awesome”) in Stephens’ class were picked for a series of exercises that brought them well out of their comfort zone, requiring, among other things, singing “Happy Birthday” for the class. In one exercise, two team members stood facing each other and mirrored one another’s hand movements. Each took it in turn to lead, trying to signal strongly the gesture that he or she was planning, so that it would be very easy for his or her partner to anticipate and imitate.

Bairdy Hansen, an accounting major, was one of the participants. MGMT 250 is a requirement for his major. Even though his chosen career is centered around working with numbers, Hansen values the opportunity to hone his people skills.

“In today’s global economy you have to have the ability to work in a team, to lead,” he said. “If you’re just a number cruncher, you’re obsolete, in my opinion.”

Teammate Kisu Shin, who is leaning toward pre-med, agreed.

“Honestly, [singing in front of the class] is uncomfortable, but it’s also part of learning. And it’s necessary, especially for somebody like me who doesn’t talk a lot in class.”

The quartet wrapped up the class period with James Brown’s “I Feel Good” arranged for strings. The class came away from the experience with the distinct sense that whether a team is at work at the office or in the conservatory, making the most of each individual’s talent to work toward a common goal is universal.

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Listen to the Cavani String Quartet
perform a piece by Béla Bartók--with and without their instruments! Mary Peckham explains why the musicians sometimes put their instruments down to practice complex rhythms.

Learn more about John Paul Stephens, assistant professor, organizational behavior and Weatherhead School of Management's undergraduate programs



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Case Western Reserve University

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