Miscommunication or Missed Communication? Part 2

To continue where we left off in Part 1, we are going to examine some of the attitudes behind why too many organizations have difficulty wrapping their minds around the concept of allocating resources toward developing improved communication between managers and musicians and especially between the musicians themselves…

My blogging colleague here at Arts journal, Andrew Taylor, wrote an excellent piece awhile back about the inherent nature of how cultural organizations want to create partnerships: they may desire to work together but they all want to sit in the driver’s seat.

This same mentality carries over into working relationships between stakeholders within individual organizations. Managers only want to dedicate organizational resources on professional development for the musicians if they get to have the majority of input on how it’s spent. Musicians don’t care for this approach because they know from experience that there’s only a handful of good people out there that retain the necessary understanding of who they are and what they do to have any positive impact.

At the same time, the musicians have the same inherent mistrust of managers that managers have of musicians. So what we end up with is the same disjointed dance repeating over and over again throughout most organizations.

Unfortunately, out of the 120 or so professional American orchestras out there, approximately a fifth of them pay their musicians enough that the players could use their work dues to hire their own consultant to come in and help them create a better internal culture. Throughout the remaining ensembles, there simply aren’t enough funds within their players’ association to hire anyone.

This leads us back to a fundamental reality within most organizations: in order for anything within an organization to improve, it must be initiated by the managers. Unfortunately, most organizations run into the problems touched on above that most managers don’t see poor musician communication as their problem. When I ask those managers if they see their own office in the same light and expect each individual manager and staffer to do what’s needed to improve communication on their own, they say that would be ridiculous.

So why is it ridiculous to want to help the musicians in the same way? Yes, musicians are collectively represented by a union. So what? Is that organization in and of itself reason to let a segment of the organizational stakeholders wallow in dysfunction? Is the thought of allowing the existing model of representation to find a facilitator and/or consultant to improve internal culture such a heinous thought?

Of course, most organizations simply limp along dealing with the affliction of poor communication year after year. However, every now and then we see some of the particularly ugly results from this dysfunctional relationship, usually at times of institutional crisis, financial impasse, and/or collective bargaining negotiations.

So the next time, you or another manager in your office is pulling their hair out over frustrating relationships with the musicians and you’re sitting around curing them for being so slow to organize and respond don’t forget to congratulate yourself for not doing anything to prevent the situation in the first place.

Postscript: When I typically have these conversations with managers, it typically includes a pitch about a program I’ve developed to improve internal musician communication that a large number of players’ associations are quite willing to implement but they can’t afford to do so.

The majority of managers I talk to say they really like my program but when it comes to the point of having them pay for it or even share the costs with the players, they all fall back into the old argument of “not my problem, if the players want to do it, they can pay for it and if I do pay for it then I only want it to work my way.”

As such, why do we get upset when those on the outside looking in think this business is filled with a bunch of administrative amateurs?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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