Work Team Lessons While Singing Doo Wop – Who Knew?


When I finally completed my dissertation almost exactly a year ago, I promised myself that I would find time to go back to singing, something that I have missed terribly. So, for the past few months, every Saturday my husband and I have traveled into Chicago to the Old Town School of Folk Music, where he takes guitar lessons, and I’ve joined a harmony singing class called Doo Wop to Early Rock.

This class, I thought, would have nothing to do with work, or with the leadership thinking that focuses me throughout the work week. So, I was pretty surprised a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of a song, I became consumed with how similar experiencing this harmony singing class was to participating on my leadership team at work. (I guess you can take the woman out of work, but you can’t take work out of the woman… )

Why am I bothering to write about this, or to think that a reader might benefit from the quick analysis? Because it seems to me that we get our lessons from anywhere and everywhere. Thinking about how my singing experiences match my work life helps me to find new meaning and appreciation for both. Whether your own “away from work” group time is a weekend softball team, a monthly card game, a family vacation, or, like me, a bunch of people with different backgrounds and somewhat mismatched voices coming together to make music, perhaps thinking of your own metaphor may help you consider a gift or problem in a new light.

Here’s a short list of my comparisons:

  • When harmony singing, like working on a team, voices must blend. One voice shouldn’t be louder than others. If all you hear is one voice popping out over and over again, then something is way, way wrong.
  • In doo wop (Yes, yes, feel free to mock me that it is a doo wop class! Really, I don’t care!), there is often someone singing the lead. Sometimes that is you! On some songs, you carry the lead and it feels like a great fit (“Up on the Roof”) and other times you are asked to be up front and the key or style feels a little out of your comfort zone, or you just don’t love the song (“Let’s Go to the Hop”).  And, let’s be honest: occasionally someone else will take the lead, and you’ll think that the part would have been perfect for you. But oh well! It wasn’t your turn, and you blend in with the rest of the group in back up.
  • Sometimes you sing a song that you love, and sometimes you sing a song that you don’t particularly like. But you will sing that unfavored song with gusto, and no one ever needs to know. (Can you think of a work project that sounds like this?)
  • You really do have to listen and pay attention, or you will miss something. In fact, when I got distracted thinking about this work team – harmony singing comparison, I turned my music over and started scribbling notes. Moments later, I realized that some of my singer friends were looking at me, waiting for me to notice that we were making a new seating arrangement for a song. So.
  • There are times when there really is no plan, and you have to improvise. Try a few things out, and see what might work best. Or, you start out thinking it will be one way, and it turns out to be completely different. (Getting the work comparisons here? I thought so.)
  • There is always something new and wonderful to learn. Why in the world had I never heard the absolutely gorgeous song “June Hymn”?
  • Sometimes the end product is great! Sometimes it is just good enough, and you move on to something else.
  • There can be value to moving out of the large group for some projects, such as when my new friend Rose pulled me aside and taught me a duet that she loved (“They Can’t Black Out the Moon”). A third singer wanted to learn the song, and the three of us improvised and learned from each other.

I could go on much longer, but I’ll stop here, rather than bleed this metaphor to death.

Yesterday was the last day of the most recent class session, and I didn’t register for the next one, as I have too many Saturday events planned over the next few weeks. I’ll miss my harmonizing buddies and cheerful, encouraging teacher. And, doo wop class or not, I’m sure I’ll keep thinking about leadership and teamwork in many contexts.