Demming: What steel bands can teach us about goals, leadership and teamwork

I have been mulling over the lessons of the panyard experience and continue to feel that the panyards are on to some yet unexplored management concept in the way they organise themselves for Carnival.

Mind you, there are as many systems as there are bands, but what is common is that they deliver a result over and over. That result is a well-crafted piece of music executed with precision. On judging night, each band delivers something magical.

Photo: Arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander (left) leads the Despers Steel Orchestra.
(Copyright Steelpan Authority)

Oftentimes, two nights before the preliminary judging, the sounds emanating from both shiny and not-so-shiny oil drums are more noise than music; even when the tune is recognizable, the performance is lacklustre. Yet magically, 48 hours later, your pores raise in response to the musical genius manifested during the judging.

My annual journey of admiration leaves me asking the question: can our public service and state enterprises emulate the systems, processes and procedures that bring out the best in Panorama bands?

I think we can, but we must invest resources in understanding those systems, processes and procedures. We need to understand what makes the 5,000-plus pan players deliver the excellence we experience year after year. If anyone is aware that this is being studied, please let me know.

I see the following three concepts replicated in each panyard:

  • Being goal-oriented
  • Teamwork
  • Strong leadership

If you ask any player in any panyard what their objective is, you will get a variation of ‘we plan to win this year’, ‘we are placing in the top three’ or ‘we are placing one better than last year’.

Photo: The Marsicans Steel Orchestra beat a tune.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Those responses check all the boxes for how a goal is articulated. If you get into a deeper conversation, the goal will be explained further.

A brilliant example of how teamwork happens is seen in how the music is taught to the players. In one instance, the section leaders arrive early and are ‘given’ the music, which they learn and subsequently teach to their colleagues. Person by person, the music is shared until each person can play the piece. There is patience, love and mutual respect in the teaching.

My third observation is about leadership; the arranger and the drillmaster epitomise the qualities of exceptional leaders. They demonstrate that there is no question about what needs to be done. Once they have decided about a particular aspect of an arrangement, there is no changing their minds and, finally, their passion is infectious.

I continue to ask the question: what makes pan unique in its product delivery? What brings players back to the panyards every year voluntarily? Our pan sides continue to deliver structures, systems and processes without heavy-handed management. What is the inspiration?

Deep in my consciousness, I see an opportunity for this phenomenon to be analysed. How can we set up a laboratory to cull the lessons and make them replicable across our organisations and systems?

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Apart from an academic application, we can begin by asking each of our politicians to spend some time in a panyard of their choice and sit quietly and observe. These players, who are often disregarded, can teach us a thing or two about how to treat each other.

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About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming grew up in East Dry River, Port of Spain and has more than 30 years experience as a Communication Strategist, Political Commentator and Event Planner. She has 15 years experience lecturing Business Communications at UWI and is the co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain. Dennise holds an MBA, a B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and a certificate Mass Communications from UWI.

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One comment

  1. SOCIAL IMPACT-
    In my interactions the area that i am most impressed with is the Social Impact, yes this is predicated on
    Being goal-oriented
    Teamwork
    Strong leadership.
    The Companion Program a getting together of the bands after Panorama in social events is the catalyst for such development. As I indicated elsewhere, there’s NO BORDERLINE, RACIAL SEGREGATION., CLASS SEPARATION or RELIGIOUS STRIFE even THE POLITICS seems to be contained.

    PS: Excellent article Dennise

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