Goal-Setting with Bristol A Cappella

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The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)Saturday took me down to Bristol to spend some time with music team members from Bristol A Cappella. Our primary focus was goal-setting: working from values and aspirations through to concrete plans. I’m not going to write much about the detail, except to say that both the adventures they are embarking on and the challenges they are grappling with would elicit empathy from anyone who has been involved in a choral ensemble.

But there are a couple of points that I can usefully reflect on without disclosing private conversations. First is how the Dilts pyramid emerged as an analytical device for considering activities within both the music team and the wider chorus. We had compiled a collection of ideas about what the ideal chorus of the imagination would be doing that the real-life currently chorus isn’t.

My original plan had been to sort these into outcome, process and individual goals, but looking at the range of ideas that had emerged, the Dilts pyramid seemed like a more immediately useful structure. Some of the points were clearly about specific behaviours - vocal skills, personal habits - whilst others were more abstract, relating to the general culture of the group, or how people experienced their identities as singers.

The thing about the Dilts pyramid is that, whilst it gives you a framework for making this more holistic, abstract judgements, it also forces you to think about the concrete actions in which they manifest. To take an example that we didn’t talk about directly on Saturday, but which makes a nice illustration: if you feel that there is a culture of risk aversion, what are the behaviours that lead you to this conclusion? A reluctance to put down the music and trust the memory?; a tendency to wait for others rather than coming in cleanly on the beat?; pulling of doubtful faces when asked to do something slightly challenging?

Abstract qualities, that is, are inferred from multiple different symptoms. A once-off hesitancy coming in wouldn’t lead to that diagnosis - that may simply be a localised uncertainty about notes - but a pattern of repeated late entries, combined with tentative behaviours in other dimensions, would point to a higher-level issue driving multiple issues.

Of course, the flip side of this is that, once you have identified the higher level issue, you can only address it through the concrete actions of changed behaviour. This in turn leads to a focus on the behaviours of the musical leadership. I didn’t make the cross-reference to Choice Theory explicitly on Saturday, but it is worth doing so here for the record. The only person whose behaviour you can control is your own, so if you want other people to change theirs, you have to find ways to change your own that encourage/enable them to adapt in response.

The other thing that rose to the top for me reflecting on the day was how musical directors, when given space to articulate it, always seem to have a very clear and idealistic vision of what they want to achieve with the groups they lead. When asked what their hopes and ambitions were when starting out with the group, they can tell you readily and in detail, in terms that tell you they have given long and careful thought to it.

But it’s also often the case that after the first few, heady months, they refer to this vision with the group less and less often. Those who were there from the get-go will know what that vision was, from having shared those early days, but later arrivals may not have heard it discussed much. They will infer parts of it from the activities they experience within the group, but possibly in a diluted or less focused form compared to the way it shines in the director’s imagination.

Revisiting the vision periodically is thus valuable for everyone. It helps the membership make sense of what their director asks of them. And it helps the director hold steady, rather than being blown off course by the buffeting winds of different members’ competing needs and the vagaries of circumstance.

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