The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has earned rave reviews as one of
the premier musical ensembles in the world. Recently, it has also attracted the
attention and admiration of the corporate world. As the only major orchestra
that rehearses, performs, and records without a conductor, Orpheus is a shining
example of a new management style based on collaborative leadership.
Leadership Ensemble shows business leaders in any
industry how to re-create the successful "Orpheus Process" in their own
companies by dismantling top-heavy hierarchies; developing flexible, responsive
strategies and decision-making procedures; and unleashing employee creativity,
responsibility, and productivity. Based on three decades of performing
experience and more than five years' partnership with corporations such as
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Orpheus has identified and refined eight core
principles, along with practical steps for putting the principles into practice
and potential traps and landmines:
- Put Power in the Hands of the People Doing the Work
discusses how to give employees, at all levels of a company, decision-making
skills and authority, with examples from J. P. Morgan Chase.
- Encourage Individual Responsibility for Product and
Quality reviews ways to improve performance as well as accountability,
including insights from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.
- Create Clarity of Roles discusses how to improve
interaction and collaboration through job descriptions and responsibilities,
with examples from Ritz-Carlton.
- Share and Rotate Leadership demonstrates how to take
advantage of all employees' expertise and creativity, including a look at W. L.
- Foster Horizontal Teamwork reviews how to build
effective, cross-departmental problem-solving work groups, including practices
at the San Diego Zoo and Russell Reynolds Associates.
- Learn to Listen, Learn to Talk provides guidelines for
effective communication in a "flat" organization, with examples from Intel.
- Seek Consensus demonstrates structures for inspiring
employees to reach shared goals, including a review of Sturman
- Dedicate Passionately to Your Mission offers insight
into building your corporate strategies around both employees' motivations and
the bottom line, with examples from Stonyfield Farm.
Spiced with anecdotes and lessons from Orpheus's day-to-day
business and long-term strategies, as well as practical steps and potential
obstacles drawn from the corporate world, Leadership Ensemble is an
entertaining, eminently practical guide to implementing changes that are
essential to survival in today's fast-paced business environment.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1972,
is based at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall, has been honored with four Grammy
awards, and is frequently profiled by the arts and business media.
Harvey Seifter, a classically trained musician, is the
executive director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has successfully managed
a number of performing arts organizations in both New York and San Francisco. He
lives in New York City.
Peter Economy is an associate editor for Leader to
Leader magazine and the coauthor of At the Helm: Business Lessons for
Navigating Rough Waters. He lives in California.
J. Richard Hackman is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of
Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and the author of
The following is an
excerpt from the book:
Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World's Only Conductorless
Seifter and Peter Economy
Published by Times Books; October 2001;
Copyright © 2004 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Harvey
Seifter and Peter Economy
Hierarchy in Information-Based Organizations
As Peter Drucker noted, orchestras, like hospitals and universities, are
"information-based organizations," composed largely of specialists who direct
and discipline their own performance through organized feedback from colleagues,
customers, and the organization's management.
Orchestras add one more element to the mix: a single manager who leads the
organization in preparation (rehearsal) and execution (performance) -- the
conductor. A conductor's work, as portrayed by Elizabeth Green in The Modern
Conductor, might also describe a successful CEO leading any organization:
"To stand in front of an orchestra, band, or chorus and beat time does not make
one a conductor. But to bring forth thrilling music from a group of singers or
players, to inspire them (through one's own personal magnetism) to excel, to
train them (through one's own musicianship) to become musicians themselves,
personally to feel the power of music so deeply that the audience is lifted to
new heights emotionally . . . yes, this can be called conducting."
But the job of conducting encompasses much more than inspiration and
education. Conductors are also specifically trained to micromanage. They select
the music and the musicians who play it, and determine exactly how each piece
will sound by making thousands of decisions about tempo, phrasing, volume, and
balance -- details that govern each musician's playing and ultimately determine
the character of the musical performance. Conductors are expected to have strong
opinions, backed by knowledge about the technical capabilities and challenges of
each instrument of the orchestra. These opinions are rarely open for question or
Conductors stand at the very pinnacle of their orchestras' musical
hierarchies, in roles that go far beyond those of most corporate CEOs or
presidents. Instead of directly supervising the activities of a relatively small
team of vice presidents or top managers as do most chief executives, conductors
directly supervise the activities of each and every musician in the orchestra.
They are expected to exact uniformity from large groups, down to the smallest
details, and any failure to invoke that authority is likely to be perceived as
weakness. When asked if the orchestra conductor is a good model for leadership
in business, Ben Zander, founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic
Orchestra, was unequivocal in his response. "It's the worst! The conductor is
the last bastion of totalitarianism in the world -- the one person whose
authority never gets questioned. There's a saying: Every dictator aspires to be
Many conductors are resistant, if not downright hostile, to receiving input
from the musicians who actually play the music. Such conductors literally rule
their orchestras with an iron baton. The stories are legendary. Zander recounts
one about the renowned maestro Arturo Toscanini: "It is said that once in the
middle of a rehearsal, in a fit of anger, he fired a long-standing member of the
double bass section, who now had to return home to tell his wife that he was out
of a job. As the bass player packed up his instrument, he mentioned a few things
that he had hitherto kept to himself, and, as he left the hall for the final
time, shouted at Toscanini, 'You are a no-good son of a bitch!' So oblivious was
Toscanini to the notion that a player would dare to challenge his authority,
that he roared back: 'It is too late to apologize!"
With such attitudes, it's not surprising that orchestral musicians tend to
keep their most original and creative impulses to themselves, rather than risk
the fury of a conductor who neither wants nor expects input. The inevitable
result is that the musicians are detached from their product, the music they
create with their instruments. Says jazz guitarist Mark Worrell, "In a symphonic
context, you find 'workers' with fabulous talents, formal training, and an
abundance of theoretical knowledge, and yet strangely enough these musicians are
forced to separate their capacity for conceptualization from the moment of
execution. This is an incredibly authoritarian and antidemocratic model of
musical production. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the symphony
itself is a mass celebration of authoritarianism -- perhaps even charismatic
This kind of environment makes the traditional symphony orchestra a prime
example of the tension that exists between traditional hierarchy's
command-and-control structures and the knowledge worker's inherent bias toward
self-management. Since it is the knowledge workers who provide the intellectual
and creative capital that drive all information-based organizations, alternative
management models that succeed in transforming the orchestra can have
potentially wide-ranging applicability.
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has developed just such an alternative model. Our
approach to orchestral leadership -- eliminating the role of the conductor and
dividing those responsibilities among the twenty-seven members of the orchestra
-- is radically different from that employed by any other orchestra in the
Orpheus has many leaders. Individual musicians constantly rotate formal
leadership roles, while others spontaneously take on ad hoc leadership
responsibilities in response to organizational needs and the specific demands of
each piece of music. In fact, everyone in Orpheus is expected to become a leader
at some time, ensuring that we sustain a unique multileadered organization that
fully engages and flexibly deploys the creative abilities and energies of each
member. Time and again in my years with Orpheus, I have seen this reservoir of
leadership give the group an unparalleled range and depth of talent to draw upon
in performance. This extraordinary organizational resource has fueled Orpheus's
three-decade success story.
The Orpheus Process has been refined over the years to allow the group to
consistently and efficiently transfer the communal creativity of a small,
four-piece chamber music group into the much larger setting of an orchestra,
which can sometimes swell to forty musicians or more. There are five key
1. Choosing Leaders. For each piece of music performed by Orpheus, the
musicians select a leadership team of five to ten players, called the core. A
committee of musicians, themselves elected by all the members of the orchestra,
selects a concertmaster, the first-chair violinist who in chamber music
ensembles is traditionally recognized as "first among equals" and in conducted
orchestras has a role in some ways analogous to a shop foreman. In Orpheus, the
concertmaster anchors the core, leads performances, and works closely with all
the musicians to develop a unified vision for the music along the way. Other
instrumental sections (cellos, oboes, etc.) then choose individuals to represent
them on the leadership team.
2. Developing Strategies. The core meets to decide how the selected
piece of music will be played, developing an overall interpretive approach to
the music before it is taken to the full orchestra. These meetings take the form
of rehearsals where many different approaches can be tried in a streamlined
3. Developing the Product (the Music). When the core is satisfied with
its approach to the piece, it is taken to the full orchestra to be rehearsed and
refined even further. Immediately after each piece is played in rehearsal,
musicians from throughout the orchestra call out suggestions to improve the
interpretation or to critique the playing of their fellow orchestra members.
Sometimes smaller debates over style, tempo, balance, and other musical nuances
ensue within the different sections of the orchestra. When disagreements arise,
the members of the orchestra work to reach a consensus-hashing out the issues
face-to-face, in real time. If they still can't reach an agreement after a
reasonable period of debate, then a vote is taken and the issue is
4. Perfecting the Product (the Music). Immediately
before every concert, a small number of members are deputized to leave their
seats onstage and go out into the hall, so they can suggest final adjustments
and refinements based on the actual sound of the full orchestra.
5. Delivering the Product (the Music). The final step is performance,
the ultimate result of the Orpheus Process. After each concert the members of
the orchestra talk to one another about ideas for further refinements to the
piece -- ideas that may make their way into the next performance.
Copyright © 2004 Orpheus Chamber
Orchestra, Harvey Seifter and Peter Economy