A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra as a huge virtual team. The reason was because sales channels are also huge virtual teams. They may not work collaboratively as lateral peers as you find in an orchestra, but there is a strong need for them to work effectively as a vertical chain. Companies heavily rely on web conferencing, email, IM and support forums to communicate up and down that vertical line to serve an end customer. Business flows best when there is a high degree of trust along those lines, so if trust can be built virtually, at distance more quickly, companies with complex channels should take note. Now that the YouTube Symphony “summit” is over, on reflection it revealed at least one tool that is not being used widely that could build trust in a channel, in fact in any virtual team, very quickly.
With only three days to prepare for this orchestra’s one and only live concert at Carnegie Hall on April 15th, YouTube and the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), needed to use unconventional tools (for musicians) beforehand to create team work. The competition was open to the world and winners stemmed from 30 countries. We had never met before, let alone worked together. From the UK, there was only a young timpani player at the Royal College of Music, and me, on horn. First, YouTube and MTT needed to communicate with this group of 96 en masse, and allow them to communicate with each other, so a Google mail group was used. Also a secure Google site was used as a document library. That included the parts for each player – a first for classical music since publishers have in the past prohibited this for copyright reasons. In hind sight, a discussion forum should have been added since the email clutter grew as the event approached.
None of those tools are new to you. What created the pre-event bonding was very new to most people. YouTube being YouTube relied heavily on video. One of the firsts was the use of 24 tutorials made by the London Symphony Orchestra for people wishing to enter the contest. For the winners, MTT made specific videos and had one of the world’s top bassoon players give a video master class on one of the pieces we were to play. As opposed to formal whitepapers or manuals, videos can be put together quickly by an expert and hosted easily by YouTube. They convey more information, hold a viewer’s attention and importantly, they show a real human being. I am reminded of the old sales adage that “People buy from people.” Having another human being explain an issue or technique is a much more satisfying way to enable a channel than any text based tool. Armed with the parts and some video guidance, YTSO participants arrived in New York prepared to play their part.
Being an orchestra, ensemble is everything. People have to be willing to listen and have to want to go with the flow. We could not have any prima donnas. We had to bond quickly. The other significant first was the use of introductory videos, and it was used on a larger scale than in any virtual team I have ever encountered before. For many people, an avatar or picture of themselves in a directory is embarrassing enough. The YTSO members were each asked to upload a short video about themselves, telling people what it was like being part of the world’s first online collaborative orchestra and how they got there. It asked people to be creative and have fun. Those videos were not just available to YTSO members, they were open to the entire world.
Taking the creative and fun directive to the max, I dashed around the sights of London with my horn. By the time of the Carnegie performance my video had over 16,000 views. Naturally we wanted to know who would be with us in New York, so most of us viewed everyone else’s video. Some of them were outstanding examples of videography. It is a big leap from posting an audition video plying your craft, to uploading an autobiographical video, especially for musicians more comfortable expressing themselves through music. In the end, only half posted. A dozen of us were also lucky to have extra videos posted about our involvement by a company making a documentary. Those that didn’t post one missed some of what happened when we finally met each other on Easter Sunday, April 12th in a New York hotel.
Never in my life have I met so many strangers whom I already knew. For years I have worked with some colleagues and never knew the level of personal details I now knew about these people. Waiting for the hotel elevator, for the first time in 3D I spotted Titus, our Romanian concert master who loves Volkswagen Beetles. He pointed at me, I pointed at him and we hugged. One amusing effect for many us was that we are shorter in real life than we appear on camera. Being a reserved chap, with other musicians our first encounter was usually a warm handshake, but the feeling that we were an orchestra, a team, and not just a random gaggle, was overwhelming. This was a powerful lesson for me and for anyone seeking to motivate a virtual team. Business lessons can come from any walk of life. Encourage video!