December 07, 2010

The best Learning Organisation experience I've ever had! – An epic tale

Doing my PMA on LO's got me thinking about whether I could claim to ever have had a true experience of anything like that, prior to joining MBE, which of course is nothing if not an organisational learning environment for us all. 

Senge's Fifth Discipline spoke of how most of us at one point or another in our lives have been part of a team that may not have been much to start with, but learned together and went on to be extraordinarily excellent. I looked back at my life: I couldn't find much in most of my jobs (excluding maybe my present one which certainly demonstrates a lot of the characteristics), or in sports teams I have played in. There were maybe a couple of times during school or at uni where certain group projects, but these were often short lived. Just then, a really striking example hit me: my band at Warwick, The Black Dogs. I really wanted to share it with you all. This is going to be a long one, so only stick around if you have some time! :P

We started in my first year here (so, Oct 2007). A few of us, with varying musical influences (from classic rock and blues, to indie, punk and funk) got together, wanting to form a band. Most of us were self-taught, and had a really strong passion for our instruments because no-one had ever made us learn, we just desperately wanted to (personal mastery in action). Also, most of us had never played in a band before! It started slowly...

We ran for a year, trying to come up with original songs, doing cover versions, but not really getting anywhere. With hindsight, I can see that time wasn't wasted. We were learning. About ourselves, each other, the local music scene, and all the while, our ability to play our instruments and write music together was improving.

But it wasn't quite working - we were limited by two of our members. One (the bassist) wasn't committed, missed practices and was always late. Why? I'm not sure. He was what we referred to in CBE as the 'walking dead'. We tried to turn him around for about 6 months, but at that point, we could all see (systems thinking) he was holding us back. Moreover, he was rarely willing to compromise on his style to work for the benefit of us all. He had to go. Another (the drummer), maybe wasn't quite up to it. Again, his style conflicted with the rest of ours, and technically, he wasn't proficient enough for our purposes. To boot, he had a fear of playing live! While a keen member, he knew it wasn't working either, and chose to leave. There are no hard feelings between any of us, I still see them both around campus to this day. The drummer even helped us in another capacity - he later designed our logo.

So we were left with a big hole in Jan 2009 - ask anyone, a rock band with no rhythm section will struggle! Myself as lead guitarist, a very close friend as the vocalist and rhythm guitarist, and another on keyboard. I had always been the one playing the leader/facilitator role - I set out to head hunt some new musicians, with the benefit of now knowing a lot more people on the scene. We re-branded at this point, changing our name to what it now is.

I quickly found a new drummer, a fresher who'd been playing for 15 years (aged just 19!) and proved to be a whirlwind behind a drum kit. It took a lot longer to find a bassist, but through contacts, I eventually managed to do it. We all got together and jammed, and it seemed promising - the new guys clicked well with us, their influences and styles were so much more similar. I can now see that our mental models were better matched, not just musically, but also in what we wanted out of the experience.

As a band, when they joined, we had two songs complete, after a year. Within the next three weeks, we had another two complete, and had booked in for our first gig, as well as entering the university's Battle Of The Bands competition. Talk about transformation! What happened in that time you ask? I can barely explain it, everything just started to work. We met regularly, whether to practice, or to socialise and plot our domination. As I mentioned, our mental models matched closely, and with some further surfacing and improvement, we were able to align them even better. Our influences narrowed from what they were initially to something new, a compromise that worked for us. We had broken down barriers between our mental models and created something new - a shared vision, built together, that we were all serious out succeeding in.

And, oh the fun we had. I can't explain it really, but in and out of the practice room, we just clicked. We had worked out what our system needed to thrive, found it in the right people who gave us the foundation for our ballsy, bluesy, folk rock. Jamie and Nick (the newbies) could lay down a groove together, to match something Pem had written. Pem, Nick and myself could adjust the rhythm and melody to fit the song. Dan and myself could then embellish with lead parts, onto which Pem projected his fantastically strong voice. The result, an adding of value on a remarkable scale, from the sum of our instuments and skills to music that meant something to us (and others) on an emotional level. It felt good!

That year, we went from nothing to reaching the semi-finals of the Battle Of The Bands competition. We also made a name for ourselves and were invited to play many more gigs. That was repeated last year, although we reached the finals of the competition instead.

My overall experience. We went from something I had dreamt about as a teenager to one of the more popular and successful bands at Warwick last year (I know, it's a small pond!). I never really had the knowledge and awareness of terminology to understand what had transpired naturally there, until now. If you like, you can listen here: http://www.myspace.com/theblackdogswarwick

I recommend you turn the volume up.

Have any of you ever been part of an LO? Are you often hoping to be again, or wondering how you might re-create those conditions? Tell me your story! And thanks for reading this epic!


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