I’m smiling, they’re laughing. Fifteen of us.
“You see these drums, hats, cloaks and shades? We’ll be together for the next two hours but in 45 minutes I’ve ordered in wine, I’ve ordered in beer and I’ve ordered in coke. So if you enjoy what we’re about to do we can celebrate, and if you hate what we’re about to do you can erase the memory.
“Now, mobile phones. You’ve got them turned off right?”
They nod, the extroverts holding theirs up for inspection.
“Well turn them on will you? How are we expected to get any work done if you keep disconnecting?”
I’m smiling, they’re laughing. Fifteen of us are standing in a circle. We’ve just done an energetic call-and-response ice-breaker.
“Please go to Google images and look up ‘The Hero’s Journey’. You’ll see a number of circular diagrams, pick one you like the look of”.
I draw a big circle on my flip chart.
“Tell me a word that jumps out at you”
“The abyss”, says an older guy, with a downward intonation.
“The call to adventure?” says a younger woman, excitedly.
“How come, out of all the options, the first thing you saw was the abyss Jake?” says the team leader.
I’m smiling, they’re laughing.
As this marketing team, a fifty fifty split of men and women ranging from twenty five to forty five, shout out more words I scrawl them on the circle like a university professor. For those of you who like a visual reference, think of Indiana Jones in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Tweed suit, wry smile. I’m letting them invent this session and take ownership of the musical story they’re about to create. Their story in glorious technicolour.
Thanks to Dawn Ellis, who introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s model twenty years ago, I’ve got it tattooed on the back of my hand. Not literally, but you know what I mean
“Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings, they’re all based on this model” I say.
“I’m Gandalf. Joe, you should be Legolas,” says one of the older women to a fit looking young man.
I’m smiling, they’re laughing.
Post-lockdown I’ve noticed an accelerated energy in teams, especially in groups like this, many of whom have only met on Zoom. It’s tight and urgent, crushed and blooming, broken and confident. If we have eyes to see it we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the world of business team building. Return to normal? You’re kidding me, right?
We’re at the end of the session and, having left the room so they could set up their final performance, they call me back in.
The place is transformed!
It looks like a dress rehearsal for The Lion King on Ice. Typo, scratch that. The Lion King on Acid. They have used every length of gold silk and camouflage cloth. Every pair of Elvis shades, every pirate hat. They are wearing belly-dance dresses and have their bongos primed. The curtain goes up and they tell their own Hero’s Journey. Their call to adventure, their battle at the abyss and, crucially, their wisdom they’re bringing back to their village. In two words, ‘culture change’.
I’m smiling, they’re laughing. I’m really proud of them. I should be hearing cash registers ringing but I’m hearing angels singing. I feel like getting a cab to The Ritz, buying everyone a drink, and calling Dawn to meet me there so we can dance on the bar. Again.
But I have to clear up this mischievous, abandoned stage set. Pack it all back into boxes and get it back in the van. It’s good actually. I need to get myself grounded. Waiting for the service lift I see myself, eyes blazing with inspiration, in the hotel mirror. I repeat to myself, “Calm down mate. Calm down. You’re not the messiah, you’re just a drummer”