How leaders influence the team's harmony

Over the past few weeks, I have seen some of the most amazing examples of teamwork that coincidentally both involve music, and both of them have really got me thinking about how the leaders set the pace and tone.


Sea shanties and singing wells

The first example was when a friend introduced me to an album of sea shanties sung by a band of fishermen.  Sea shanties, traditionally sung on ships during the Age of Sail, were used as a means of making sure everyone worked at the same pace for long periods; singing the rhythmic lyrics coordinated the efforts of many sailors all pulling on lines at the same time. It’s a pretty striking sound – rhythmic, rousing and sometimes a little… shall we say… salty! It’s a sound like no other and one you should definitely check out!

The next example of teamwork I saw made my jaw drop in sheer awe at the ingeniousness of man; a documentary showed how the Samburu people of north-central Kenya provide their livestock with water from ‘singing wells’ deep in the ground. Ledges are carved into the sides of the well right from the bottom all the way up to ground level by a team of people. Then, a man stands on each ledge and buckets of water are passed from one to the next, until it reaches the people waiting above ground. It’s an ingenious solution to an ancient problem.   As a team they work seamlessly, and astonishingly quickly, as you imagine you would when faced with a herd of impatient cattle!

And why are they called singing wells? Because, just like the fishermen, the Samburu sing together as they work to make sure that everyone keeps pace with the rest of the team.


The leader sets the tone

And just as I was marvelling at what great teams can achieve, it occurred to me: the harmony of the team came as a result of their highly aware and effective leaders.

The fishermen are led through the shanties by a Shantyman, who leads the call and response lyrics. He chooses the song that fits the task at hand, fixes the pace and sets the tone.  Just as the man at the head of the singing well chooses the song, fixes the pace and sets the tone.

The leader of each of these teams has given each member a clear goal, and they each hold this shared vision in mind.  So yes, teamwork makes the dream work, as we sometimes say round here. But teamwork of this magnitude wouldn’t be possible without the strength, guidance and vision of the leader.

These examples, far removed from the corporate world, have really reinforced for me what I know to be true from the work I’ve done with leadership teams around the world –  it takes a strong, visionary, leader to set the tone of a team and raise it up to be more than the sum of its parts. With a transformational leader at the helm, a team can achieve more than what seems, at first glance, humanly possible.

Learn more about why it is best when leaders are grown, not imported.