Harmony & Rhythm in Organizational Development

by | Feb 8, 2024 | I-O Psychology, Organizational Development, Teamwork | 0 comments

Parallels between shared music-making and OD

In the dynamic world of organizational development (OD), business leaders oftentimes find themselves on a continuous quest to find innovative and effective strategies for fostering teamwork, navigating change, and enhancing employee well-being. My journey into finding the keys to unlocking transformational OD began in an unlikely setting — my high school band program. This experience laid the foundation for a fascinating exploration into how the principles of music can offer valuable insights and strategies for organizational growth and transformation.

Every marching season, a new organization begins with a series of teams (instrumental sections, including brass, woodwinds, guard, and — my favorite — percussion). Each team needs to form, storm, and norm before they perform for exhibition or competition. Then, each of these teams needs to work together as a cohesive workgroup, literally in harmony and in step with each other, to attain a shared goal — an excellent performance, which hopefully yields a trophy.

Then, after marching season, dramatic changes occur with the development of concert bands, jazz band, and other indoor ensembles. Musicians must exercise a great deal of resilience, section leaders must overcome resistance to new ways of doing things, and many members feel a sense of loss from what they built in marching band as they transition to the new way of doing things. Every season becomes a classic representation of the Bridges Transformational Model (1988):

  • Ending, Losing, Letting Go: People emotionally dread the ending of old ways and potential losses, including familiarity and comfort. They may disengage or otherwise express their feelings with valid concerns.
  • Neutral Zone: Workers now may experience regret and long for the old ways. As conditions move from the old to the new ways, confusion and questions may arise, but this paves the way to new beginnings.
  • New Beginning, Making Gains: Attitude change and acceptance take hold as people perceive benefits (improved efficiency, new skills, better service) and celebrate successes.

This cyclical process mirrored the organizational change management (OCM) principles, where teams must navigate through transition phases to achieve harmony and excellence. As the percussion section leader and eventually the band president, I felt a strong need to help others through these changes as so many other emerging leaders have in other programs. This annual transition became a living case study in effective OCM, showcasing the resilience and adaptability required for organizational growth and laid a foundation for a career in management that has spanned more than 27 years.

Team-Based Music Making and OD

In the early 2000s, while working for a music publisher as the associate director of marketing, I had the good fortune of learning how to facilitate drumming circles in my spare time before attending graduate school. I learned from the late great Paulo Mattioi, a highly skilled master drummer and inventor of the Remo djembe — a goblet-shaped drum with origins in West Africa. Paulo taught me how not to conduct but to facilitate rhythmic conversations and help ad hoc groups overcome the obstacles of inexperience, self-doubt, and a perceived lack of ability to develop skills, gain self-efficacy, and leverage listening and learning to cocreate music that made the body and soul move using drums and percussion instruments.

Historically, groups attempting to use shared music-making in OD interventions based the effectiveness on aspiration rather than empirical evidence (Ippolito & Adler, 2018). However, some research has indicated that team-based music-making, such as drumming circles, can lower stress and help teams develop stronger working relationships through the expression of creative music (Bittman et al, 2003).

Performing music together requires individuals within groups to listen, adapt, and contribute to a collective output, reflecting the essence of effective teamwork and collaboration within organizational workgroups. The emotional and structural transitions in music ensembles, as they move from gathering as a new group, learning new music, rehearsing that music, and performing it, serve as a powerful metaphor for understanding and navigating organizational change. Training teams to use music as a metaphor may inspire them to adopt better listening, adaptation, and engagement skills and abilities.

Movers and shakers in the drumming circle community, including author and facilitator Arthur Hull and Christine Stevens from Remo HealthRhythms, have brought drum circles to Fortune 500 companies to foster better team building, communication, and resilience through change (Stevens, 2003; Hull, 2015). As Stubbers (2014) explored, drum circles may enhance team cohesion and communication, offering a practical team-building intervention that mirrors my personal experiences with facilitating drum circles. These findings highlight the potential of music-based activities to bolster employee well-being and team dynamics.

Organizations looking to harness the power of music for OD can start by integrating regular music sessions or employing drum circles as team-building exercises. However, for organizations where these types of interventions may not work, in some contexts, OD professionals might use musical metaphors to frame discussions about teamwork and collaboration. Such interventions have the potential to improve team dynamics and serve as creative means for conflict resolution, fostering a culture of listening, empathy, and shared purpose.

Improvisation and OD

No one reads music within drumming circles, and no formal structure exists. The entire experience develops in the present with a strong sense of mindfulness using a shared rhythmic pulse, such as a “heartbeat rhythm” played by a bass drum, as a framework. Training in organizational improvisation may benefit OD interventions as “it requires the participants to accommodate to each other’s work without preconceived notions, thus enhancing their flexibility and adaptability to work in any situational context” (Pruetipibultham & McLean, 2010). For instance, having teams work together to improvise solutions for a business problem within a workshop can create pathways toward better team cohesion, building confidence in individual abilities and developing trust among workgroup members.

In conclusion, the similarities between group-based music-making and organizational development offer a new compositional arrangement of insights for enhancing team dynamics, navigating change, and fostering a positive organizational culture. Just as every member of a musical ensemble plays a vital role in creating harmony and rhythmic nuance, every individual within an organization contributes to its overall success. By drawing from lessons from the world of music, organizations can embark on a transformative journey toward resilience, adaptability, and creativity.

As we reflect on the power of music as both a metaphor and a mechanism for organizational development, we might consider how these principles can be applied to foster unity, drive change, and enhance the well-being of individuals and teams alike. Harmonious workplaces await, ready to be facilitated by those willing to explore the harmonious potential of music within their own contexts. When considering leading change, remember that some musicians have tremendous potential for delivering superior performance and collaboration outcomes from their experiences in their art.


Bittman, B., Bruhn, K. T., Stevens, C., Westengard, J., & Umbach, P. O. (2003). Recreational music-making: a cost-effective group interdisciplinary strategy for reducing burnout and improving mood states in long-term care workers. Advances in Mind Body Medicine, 19(3/4), 4–15.

Bridges, W. (1988). Bridges Transition Model. https://wmbridges.com/about/what-is-transition/

Hull, A. (2015). Drum Circle Spirit: Facilitating Human Potential Through Rhythm. White Cliffs Media Co.

Ippolito, L.M. & Adler, N.J. (2018). Shifting metaphors, shifting mindsets: Using music to change the key of conflict. Journal of Business Research, Volume 85(358–364). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.10.013.

Pruetipibultham, O., & McLean, G. (2010). The Role of the Arts in Organizational Settings. Human Resource Development Review, 9, 25–3. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484309342852.

Stevens, C. (2003). The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. Hal Leonard.

Stubbers, J. J. (2014) Drum circles as a team-building intervention. Theses and Dissertations, 475. Pepperdine Digital Commons. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/etd/475

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