in Music

Orpheus-style leadership

This book review reminded me of the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

…which has forged a successful recording and performance career without the need of a conductor. Their group is not leaderless, members are keen to emphasize; rather, the leadership role shifts among them within a performance and even within a piece. Echoing Peter Drucker, the author writes, “The Orpheus approach may be the harbinger of leadership trends to come in the business world.”

I love this example of putting power in the hands of the people doing the work, yet I’m still a little skeptical about how much your average classical musician wants to be on the board and schmooze with rich patrons to keep the endowment funded. Still, I’d like to experiment with the model in businss environments, especially in employee-owned companies.

The Orpheus Process is built on eight principles:

  1. Put power in the hands of the people doing the work.
  2. Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality.
  3. Create clarity of roles.
  4. Foster horizontal teamwork.
  5. Share and rotate leadership.
  6. Learn to listen, learn to talk.
  7. Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus).
  8. Dedicate passionately to your mission.
  1. This idea is called communism and it failed miserably.

    This equal power paradigm can work only for small groups, implementing it on a large scale will end with the catastrophe. I guess it is in our nature to be greedy and to establish ourselves as a leader (not everyone is like this, but given a large enough group, you’ll find enough examples).

    Have you ever heard of a success-sory on a large scale?

  2. Luckily this *is* a small group — a chamber orchestra. Maybe it won’t work with a symphony orchestra ;-)

    Seriously, communism requires the elimination of social class and the adoption of a gift economy. But this model still has leaders (a social class), and while the article doesn’t say, it could allow for leaders to be compensated differently than a non-leader.

    But the point is taken that large scale orgnizations usually require more hierarchy than this. Infusing these principles in larger organizations is a challenge worth thinking about.

  3. I guess Wikipedia is an example of a successful large-scale equal-power organizaion. However, wikipedia also has some kind of self-established leadership sysops and admins).

    This could lead to the conclusion that every organization has to have some kind of leadership, the only difference is how the leaders are chosen. In this orchestra example, they rotate the leadership among theirselves. In a democracy it is chosen by the people, and in a dictature regime it is forcifully gained and later sustained by some group.

    However, there are counter examples: guerilla based (hm, terroristic?) organizations with no hieararchies. There are a lot of peer-to-peer file sharing tools (Gnutella?) that don’t use central servers but are peer-to-peer in a true sense. But even here, there has to be some kind of conflict-resolution mecahnism, that requires temporary leadership.

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