|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
Ian Leslie has written a terrific story for The Economist's 1843 magazine titled, "A rocker's guide to management." In the essay, Leslie describes four models for organizing a great rock band and draws some conclusions about how to run a start-up and later a more complex business. Leslie writes, "The history of rock groups can be viewed as a vast experimental laboratory for studying the core problems of any business: how to make a group of talented people add up to more than the sum of its parts. And, once you’ve done that, how to keep the band together." He describes four models for how to run a rock band:
Friends: "We Can Work It Out" - example: The Beatles
Leslie cites research demonstrating that having friendships at work can enhance employee engagement and job satisfaction. Moreover, he notes that the intimate friendships of John, Paul, George, and Ringo meant that they could literally finish each other's sentences. Of course, working with your closest friends has its costs and risks. Differences of opinion on issues can turn emotional and interpersonal in a hurry. Fractures can result within a team.
Autocracies: "I Won't Back Down" - example: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Leslie notes that Tom Petty used to lead the band in a very egalitarian fashion. He shared all profits equally. Soon, though, he realized that trying to operate as a team of equals proved problematic. He shifted toward a more top-down approach and no longer shared profits equally. People had a hard time accepting his decision at first, but eventually, they worked through their differences and remained a cohesive, productive band for decades. Leslie also points to "The Boss" - Bruce Springsteen - as an example of an autocratic approach. Springsteen once said, “Democracy in a band...is often a ticking time bomb. If I was going to carry the workload and responsibility, I might as well assume the power. I’ve always believed that the E Street Band’s continued existence is partially due to the fact that there was little to no role confusion among its members.” Some famous founders have operated autocracies successfully, but of course, autocracies come with serious downsides as well. The lack of empowerment can be very demotivating in many circumstances. Moreover, if the leader makes questionable decisions, and they remain unchallenged, team performance can suffer greatly.
Democracies: "Everybody Hurts" - example: R.E.M.
Democratic approaches in rock bands, as in startups, can be problematic at times, as people do not understand or accept their roles. Members find themselves stepping on each other's toes, and they fight over who deserves the credit. However, democracy worked for R.E.M. and for Coldplay. Leslie writes, "The democratic model depends on individual members believing that each has the group’s interest at heart, not just their own... R.E.M.’s decision-making process meant they exhibited confidence in each other every day. There must also be a belief in each other’s competence. Tony Fletcher, the biographer of R.E.M., says that “usually in a band there’s someone the others think isn’t good enough, or isn’t pulling their weight.” But that was never the case with R.E.M., all of whose members were skilled in multiple ways. “Everybody Hurts”, the band’s biggest hit, was largely written by the drummer, Bill Berry."
Frenemies: "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" - example: The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones learned to respect one another and to divide up their responsibilities clearly. They each had a defined role. Mick Jagger ran the business, while Keith Richards focused on music. He didn't always like Jagger's decisions, but he deferred on business matters to this bandmate. They didn't always get along, but they tended to benefit from a level of constructive conflict and tension. One reason that they managed to survive as a group for so long is that they didn't let disagreements fester beneath the surface. They argued it out. Finding that perfect balance of conflict and compromise can be very challenging though. Many groups cannot prevent their issue-based disagreements from spilling over into the personal.