Dance Your Way to Better Team Performance

danceDuring our monthly coaching conversation last week, one of my customers shared her latest challenges and successes in leading continuous improvement within her organization. To my surprise she added, “Also, my team and I signed up for dance lessons.” This is a bit unconventional as company-sponsored team building activity goes. But why not? A diverse group of people moving together to the beat of the music, getting some exercise, laughing and having a good time. This could only lead to good things back on the job.

By chance I found a recent Scientific American article explaining Why Dancing Leads to Bonding. The article credits dancing for strengthening bonds between people to two factors, “a blurring of the self into their groups thanks to the synchronization that occurs while dancing” and the releases of endorphins as a result of physical exertion. The reduction of ego, breaking down barriers between self and other, and the resulting strengthening of a sense of collective identity would certainly help team performance on the job.

Various studies of human behavior, from cultivating common interests to mirroring body language, have revealed that we prefer people who are similar to ourselves. Paul Reddish, a social psychologist at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, is quoted in the article, “there is something special about matching the same behaviors at the same time.” People naturally find more in common with those who have similar backgrounds, appearance, manner, and perhaps even how we move on the dance floor. Would it be surprising if people are wired to conclude, “If we can dance together we can do business together”?

This reminded me that on almost every tour that I led to a Toyota factory or other world class lean company, someone would observe that the workers seemed to be dancing. The way repetitive manual processes are performed, whether on a production line or parts picking area or final inspection, people moved easily, gracefully and with an economy of motion. In lean production work is synchronized with customer demand by takt time, with dance steps sketched out and practiced through standardized work, the movements of the workers’ hands and feet studied and choreographed like dance movements. If it is true that dancing creates team cohesion, that is yet another reason to develop steps, motions and routines of standard work for people. For knowledge workers who mainly exercise their brain and not their body at work, perhaps the dance lesson is the next best thing.

Some of us have to “dance around the subject” or “tap dance” to avoid uncomfortable truths at work or in personal life. How much better would our lives be if we could invite our partner, family member or customer to dance lessons, bond as people, and learn to act in synch with each other?

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