Sunday, June 24, 2012

Team Building Drum Circles & Facilitating Group Drumming

Many drum circle facilitators who offer team building drum circles use a variety of team building rhythm games, and then finish up the remaining time with a drum circle. It's a tried and true method. But over time, I've developed my own approach. I suggest that you do the same thing. Study what the others do, and develop your own sense of style and unique way of doing things. These are just my opinions, and I hope that some of it will be helpful to you. There are certainly other ways to go about this. Based on my style, and experience, this is how I do it. It is not the only way, or even the best way, but it's what works for me. The clients have been happy with the results, and that's what matters.

For many years, companies have strived to implement the concepts of empowering employees to find and implement better ways of accomplishing work processes. Deming, one of the world’s foremost authorities on quality assurance and employee productivity, was also one of the first to recognize the fact that it is the employee working at the lowest level who knows the most about how to improve the flow of work. The stumbling block has always been how to convince workers to speak up and propose the changes and then find ways to make those changes happen to achieve optimal results. Drum circles provide a unique and highly effective solution to this quandary.

Drumming has been around for thousands of years. Virtually every culture on earth has a history of community drumming being used to unify the group. Different cultures produced different instruments and rhythms. Your company is a microcosm culture that can use the same approach to unify the group & improve their interactions, resulting in improved productivity.

Drum circles are an excellent activity for any group, and for all ages. But especially as a tool for team building. Letting people express themselves through drumming and then seeing how that can build to a musical performance is at the heart of team effort. Learning to let go of self involvement in order to synchronize with others is the essence.

Not everyone can or will play the drums the same way, just as they don't do their jobs exactly the same way. And those slight differences, if done from each person's strengths, are what make the musical result magical. People learn that playing / working together is something that is its own reward because the results are beyond what any individual can do.

Drum circles can be extremely effective for companies that want to enhance the generation of new ideas and better team work. When people discover that they can collectively produce a good sound without any musical training or background, they start to realize that they can be more effective at work by putting their heads together and working as a team.

Also, drumming uses the brain in a different pattern than the linear thought process that is usually needed in the work environment. For example, when suggesting a drum circle rhythm, I like to vocalize the first few measures before we play it. The logical analytical side of the brain can process it quicker, which then frees up the creative intuitive side. People can then play what they feel, rather than over thinking it. ie: The Heartbeat drum rhythm: Boom Boom chicka-chicka Boom Boom (pause, & repeat)

A drum circle brings the group to a more open mental and psychological process, which can be carried over to the production of new and better ways of working. An excellent tool to kick off any kind of brainstorming session and optimize the quantity and quality of new ideas. In other words, your team improvises and is more creative.

I’ve worked for, and talked with a lot of businesses and corporations about using drum circles to improve the performance and productivity of their employees. This is not as crazy as it might sound. It is currently being used extensively in large corporations and I believe that it can be just as effective in smaller companies. A small investment of time and money can reap benefits that will improve a company’s effectiveness for a very long time. This is where many of the drum circle facilitators make the big bucks. The proof that drum circles are effective is right there.

And as a drum circle facilitator, I work to define objectives and construct an approach that fits their particular environment. I typically work with 5 to 80 people at a time. I provide all of the instruments and I can also help to coordinate the event itself. Everyone is free to participate, or just sit back and anticipate the results.

Team building through the interactive process of a drum circle is a relatively new approach to employee productivity that is becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States. Successful corporations know that good team building improves the success rate, not only of the team, but of the corporation. But, knowing how to create truly effective teams is a distinct set of skills that is rarely taught to the employees who would be in a position to implement them. There are two obstacles to team building in the corporate environment.

Unlike sports, where it is known that the team has to work together, corporations are often highly competitive environments. And, people who view their co-workers primarily as competitors, are unlikely to interact in a constructive team setting.

In addition, employees are accustomed to passively accept the work assigned to them by their bosses and work primarily towards doing only those specific tasks that they believe will please their boss.

Building a successful team requires a significant shift in these two patterns of interaction. A good team's members will help one another overcome obstacles and improvise new and better ways of accomplishing all of the goals that the team faces, rather than individual tasks. This makes the entire team more productive. Plus, as humans are social by nature, this interaction makes the work place more enjoyable. And people who enjoy their work place are more productive.

Drum circles are a highly effective way of introducing the revised shift in attitudes necessary for building teams. While an individual can beat on a drum and produce a rhythm, it only becomes true music when a group of people play together. A drum circle facilitator teaches the basics of drumming, then guides the group into creating a musical experience. The type of facilitation used can be a major factor. A too highly structured drum circle can emphasize the mindset of only just following instructions.

I think the ideal type of facilitation to kick start or improve team building is one in which the participants are encouraged to improvise within the rhythm structure provided by the facilitator. It is a direct parallel to the team improvising solutions to the group of tasks that the team needs to accomplish.

Drumming immediately reduces stress and breaks down barriers between the participants. The process then brings the group back together in a nonverbal form of team interaction. The group learns how to listen to what is going on and respond to it in a way that adds to the total product. Once people do this in a setting that is fun, they can then carry it back to their regular work tasks, resulting in better communications and increased effectiveness.

When I book a team building drum circle, no matter how large a group it is, I try to find out a few key pieces of information. In fact, one of the most important things I do is some homework about the company, business, or group. I try to find out names, who does what, and get as many details as possible. Often I get hardly anything other than a brief from their site. But I try to get as much information as possible in advance, (within reason of course) from the hiring person.

For example, what's the theme they have in mind? Company values? Better synergy? Leadership? Stronger communication? Risk taking? What's the purpose or objective of them wanting this drum circle team building event? Finding some of this out helps me to custom tailor activities, (or lack of them) specifically for them. You can't fool most of these business management types, they have seen it all, and can spot BS right away. The important thing is to deliver on a clear theme, and meet their objectives, not mine.

For me every event is different, but there are a few mechanical things I do at the start, and at a few points during the drumming process. There are a few "welcome activities" I've learned from others, such as the handshake circle, the egg shaker pass, and so on. (Do a search on them if you need the specifics.) These are both good ice breakers.

More often I just get them drumming to a basic foundational drumming beat as quickly as possible. The reason is, corporate types tend to over think things if you give them too much time. A simple vocalization of a rhythm for a few bars in 4/4 time, gets them quickly out of their heads, improvising, and creating.

For example, nice and slow tempo, 4/4 time, each word is a 1/4 note, 4 notes per measure: (This is 2 measures, or 8 beats.)

bass, rest, bass, rest; tone, tone, tone, rest; & repeat the phrase.
Let it go for 5 minutes and slowly bring up the tempo. Let it evolve...

From then on it's just a series of different rhythms from around the world. The vocalizing emphasizes listening and dialogue between the employees. The rhythm Heartbeat, or Hi-Life are good after the warm up. It leaves openings for call and response. One you demonstrate it, and let them know it is okay not to have to strictly follow the rules like in their normal working environment, this is when the team building begins. Various drumming games and activities do work, but not as well as creating a setting to just letting them figure it out for themselves. Not the best analogy here, but if you are stuck at a level in a video game, is it more satisfying to figure it out, or have someone show you? It stays with you if you accomplish it on your own.

I don't go much for the body beat percussion thing, the layering in of percussion, as many others use it. I think of it how I would like it to be if I was an employee. I have sat in that chair waiting for some silly team building activity before. So I don't leave people sitting there waiting for their turn to play. I do like to take a 5 minute break at the half way point for a brief discussion. After that, I ask everyone to pass their drum or percussion instrument to the person on their right. They have to figure out a new drum, and how to play it. They experience the change in themselves, the sound, and the circle. It is similar to them having to figure out their own strategies for dealing with something different on the job.

I usually do this one more time about 15 minutes later, but this time we break and I ask a few of them to comment on the differences of the new drum they are playing. It opens up some interesting discussion, and job related metaphors. I've found this to be very effective, the suits can see what is happening, and they can see the value of why we are doing it. I like to get the particpants to openly talk about what they are experiencing after specific drum rhythms at a few different points during the program.

My experience is that most executives are very sharp, and they have short attention spans. Not because of ADD, but they tend to learn very quickly, so they can also get bored quickly with basic team building drumming games and activities. They figure them
out fast, and want to move on to something else. I can't say I blame them really. Just drumming works better than gimmicky things that waste time. (But I always have a few at the ready just in case.) I keep two lists in my back pockets. One is a list of rhythms, and the other is a list of drumming activities. I hardly ever look at them, but if they are there, I feel more confident. If I do get a brain freeze I can just glance at it for reference. It happens.

My overall pacing of the various drum rhythms is slow and steady, with a few ebbs and flows to keep things unpredictable. The main objective is to create a group dynamic as fast as possible, and a group rhythm that represents the goals of the company. The group downbeat rhythm represents the basic working process, and goals of the organization. They just don't know it until after we are done. It is their company "groove". The rhythm is the vehicle.

I like to spend a few hours planning out the program the night before, and also after I have seen the room, and set up my drums. I take a half hour to figure out and visualize my program that is about to start. One thing I got from my years in show business and appearing on live TV, is the there is an ever so fine line between fear, and excitement. All I have to do is convince my mind that I AM EXCITED. How cool is it that I get to do this? I'm not nervous, or scared...I'm excited.

As the facilitator, my job is to provide the instruments and guide the participants through the process. I do not tell them what to do, but give them the tools to figure out what their group pulse is. This is a surprisingly powerful tool. I start by letting them just beat on the drums to get a feel for the physical motion involved and to release any tensions. Then, I start showing them a series of basic rhythms and, once they get those, show them how to feel the rhythm and add their individual flavor to it. The sound moves around as different people will dominate a pattern and affect it. Then, I introduce a new beat and someone else ends up taking the lead, and away we go team building, while having a good time.

Trying to encourage employees to think outside the norm and find better ways of working is a highly worthwhile goal. Drum circles show them how to do this in a context that removes their routine ideas of constraints. It gives a simple joint goal to the group, then fosters a creative and spontaneous accomplishment of that goal. It enhances the ability of the members to function together at their best by providing a path that is relaxing, invigorating, and just plain fun. And, people who enjoy working together are consistently more productive. The stress reduction of the drum circle can also significantly reduce absenteeism. Many large corporations are now using drum circles on a regular basis.

I try to provide a safety net by being constantly tuned in to the group and the individuals, so they can have a good time. I mention on my page, helping people to find their own inner sense of rhythm takes very little guidance and can be done spontaneously in the middle of an ongoing rhythmic drum beat. Natural rhythm flows within all of us. Our hearts beat to a rhythm, we walk to a rhythm, many aspects of our daily lives are done to a rhythm.

Whenever we hear drumming, we begin to move to the universal rhythm inside us all. The drum connects your heart to your hands. We start out a beat, we just follow the beat, and all of a sudden we are improvising, experiencing and talking with our drums. You are the instrument, the drum becomes your voice. Drumming conversations begin to emerge as people become connected beyond the music being played. They are finding their inner natural rhythm. I drum what I say.


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