Jazz as a Model for Teamwork

After a long wait, my TEDx talk is finally live:

Great team collaboration is the secret sauce of successful companies. At its core, collaboration comes from the culture of your company and the dynamics of your team. This entertaining session demonstrates how the dynamics of jazz improvisation serve as a model for better teamwork.

There are three key aspects of jazz improvisation that lead to the condition of radical collaboration, or the intense type of fellowship found in jazz:

  • Empathy: Each person in a team brings something unique to the table. But it’s only when everyone comes together that great things can happen. Jazz musicians talk about having “big ears,” which means listening to others more than you’re listening to yourself. With this in mind, having empathy, respect, and trust for your teammates and their roles is critical in effective cooperation.
  • Embracing uncertainty: Jazz musicians take risks. They experiment in real time all the time. They enter each performance with an open mind, a beginner’s mind, and they are willing to explore the unknown. In today’s business environment, no one has all the answers. You need to create a safe environment for experimenting and exploring on the fly.
  • Following patterns: Exploring the unknown and embracing uncertainty doesn’t mean ignoring all the rules. On the contrary: Patterns of behavior and standard guidelines become more necessary in improvisation. Jazz improvisation is filled with common structures and even constraints. And it’s once these routines become internalized that the exploration can happen on the surface.

Now imagine your teams were like that. Imagine everyone at work was on the same page, had empathy for others, and embraced uncertainty. Jazz improvisation both inspiration and practical guidance for better teamwork.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. Excellent stuff, Jim. The insights wrt org structure and collaboration are fascinating, as are your explanations of jazz harmony and improvisation. More please :)

  2. Pingback: 19 важных материалов по продуктовому дизайну за прошедший месяц | My WordPress Website

  3. Great use of jazz as a metaphor for collaboration

  4. True ahah moment Jim. Terrificaly illustrated both in experience journey + instructional design. You explain in layman terms what I’ve learned as a horn player (Bb Trumpet + Flugelhorn) the hard way on the job as an amateur foreman of a jazz quintet for many years . Didn’t know you were a Jazz afficionado + double bass man. Very cool and I’m impressed by your ability and skill to do a TEDx talk, play + analyze all in 17 min. Chapeau Jim, hope we have a chance to jamm on some aaba schemes, some time beyond our #Mural #eventcanvas collaborations.

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