We all know that sense of shared experience when we sit around a campfire with a group of people. Teams are also made of multiple people coming together to jointly go after a specific goal. And very often new teams struggle to figure out how to actually arrive at a sense of “we” as a team. It can feel like a big challenge for leaders to step into a team or build a team up from scratch and somehow create a team spirit, psychological safety, a joint view of direction and a generous and collaborative culture that results in a learning and highly successful team. One that people are excited to be a part of, are engaged in and want to contribute to. What many leaders have now also witnessed, is that even in existing teams, when going to fully remote or hybrid setups, there are challenges with trust, team spirit, innovation and coherence that never used to exist while everyone met in an office. All the more reason to get really curious, proactive and intentional about the foundational building blocks of high performing teams.
For me as a leader this meant learning a lot about how relationships between people work, my relationship with myself, what part I play in my relationships with the people around me, and ultimately what that might mean for the web of connections that exist within a team of 7-10 people plus their relationships with stakeholders around them.
So a few years ago I started researching, playing with and experimenting with concepts drawing on psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness, relationship theory, attachment theory, mindset practices, habit research, research on emotional agility, research on body/brain relationships, etc…
Eventually I started seeing more and more of these research fields and practice fields speak about the topic of interconnectedness from all kinds of angles. Which naturally got me curious about what kind of practical experiences might exist that let a team actually feel the difference between them as an individual in a team and them being part of a team that is more than just the sum of its pieces. How might a team member safely experience and experiment with the role their presence plays in a team. How might this be a learning that ties to emotional insights for them (as learning tied to an emotional experience is one of the most profound ways to actually shift a perspective). So if my goal is to build a “team spirit”, how might I get my team to actually experience themselves as a team, and not just as a loose collection of individuals.
This is where I recently got super curious when I met Julia Schönleiter, who leads groups of people into experiences of singing together that deeply touch on the emotions of her participants. I wanted to discuss with her how her process of guiding groups of people into singing together might help in building a deeper sense of interconnectedness into a team.
Here are some of the questions we discussed in our discussion about that topic:
What happens when a group of people gets together and sings?
First I want to differentiate between singing in a choir and singing in a group without the aim of performing.
If a choir gets together then to rehearse and perform an arranged piece of music. Studies show that singing music that is emotional lowers and synchronizes the heart rate of all singers. If the choir is pumped or touched by their own performance then this is a great bonding experience and happy making situation for each choir member.
When a group of people – such as a team – come together to sing in a circle with no intent to rehearse or perform, then the above mentioned effect is still happening and more. But there is a hurdle to that. There is no sheet music to which you can cling and no notes to focus on. Maybe there are some lyrics to read but basically this is just singing a simple phrase or a catchy folk song or really anything that is easy to sing and resonating with everyone’s life experiences.
A lot of people are afraid of JUST singing, when there is no ask to perform in a certain way. They feel their vulnerability. While singing the focus is open, not occupied with performing in a certain way e.g.. This is where people feel suddenly touched and then deeply emotional. Additionally the group creates a “social warmth” (how german music sociologist Prof. Karl Adamek likes to put it) in which frozen emotions of past Trauma – small or big – can thaw. It can happen that old wounds find their way out of our system in tears and crying.
That is why in my opinion there is no quicker and more effortless way to warm up to each other and bond than singing together. It can be as a choir, but boy is it fast when you sing in this other way together, you immediately create this feeling of being interconnected with all the other people singing with you.
How can a guided singing experience be a space where people dare to authentically show up with their voice?
That’s the beauty of singing: YOU CANNOT HIDE. Everything is expressed. Even or especially the suppressed emotions. That is also the reason why people shy away from singing. It’s all in the sound, not in the words. It’s not so much the fear of singing, the overall vocal abilities or the lack of training or musicality. The moment someone gets over the point of not singing to now I’m singing, the hardest part is done. And the singing voice can do its magic.
How might an experience of singing together create powerful bonds between people?
When people sing together they can consciously experience the sound of their own voice, and simultaneously experience the sound of other voices in the group and the body of all the voices together. In singing together we can still feel ourselves as individuals and at the same time as part of something bigger. In singing together you can develop your listening skills as well as consciously shifting your focus between you (your voice), other individuals (other voices) and the whole group (your sound as a group). A tune or a song, or an open toning can be so special, that you bond over the sensation of bliss, astonishment and wonder – regardless of your skill level as a singer.
How might this be something teams could consciously choose to do in order to experience a sense of interconnectedness and inter-being?
If it’s a once in a lifetime experience as part of a team offsite or a recurring training the memory of a profound and conscious expanding experience is shared forever. Whenever someone in the group allows themselves to hum or sing at a later stage, all others are reminded and feel the experience of deep interconnectedness again. Also the listening and sensing skills are and stay refined. This shows a positive effect on communicating with each other in general.
What is it that you wish people knew about the power of their voice?
Many people are working with me because they want to enjoy singing again. In addition they yearn for this special quality of connection to themselves while and through singing. Behind this yearning there is the wish to feel more alive, present and whole. But all our suppressed, difficult emotions keep us from feeling like that. Your own singing can take you to these places of hurt and carry them out through crying and sobbing. Singing leads you through this whole healing and cleansing process. It takes you in, through and out. After this process everyone feels light, open and free..
I hope you found this little glimpse into our conversation as fascinating as I did, and it does inspire you to think of conscious ways to let your team experience their interconnected nature. If you’d like to find out more about Julia and her coaching work with voice and singing, you can find her website here: Julia Schönleiter (juliaschoenleiter.de). You can also find, follow and connect with Julia on LinkedIn here: Julia Schönleiter
Photo of group by campfire by Mike Erskine on Unsplash
If you would like to explore this more: reach out for a free discovery session with me.
I coach, speak, do workshops and blog about #leadership, #product leadership, #innovation, the #importance of creating a culture of belonging and how to succeed with your #hybrid or #remote teams.
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