Goal-Setting in Action

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Posting an article about goal-setting this week wasn’t purely a decision related to the New Year. I was also thinking about a session I was due to facilitate with the Music Team of Cleeve Harmony on Thursday. The chorus has just celebrated its 3rd birthday (indeed, they celebrated this week with a very well-attended Open Night), and are shifting from the new-chorus-doing-everything-as-novices phase into the now-we’re-established-and-have-a-sense-of-group-identity-how-do-we-want-to-develop? phase. Whilst they still feel they have plenty to learn, they have some solid experience and successes under their belts on which to build.

(I’m not sure that you ever really stop feeling that there’s more to learn, but being able to look back and measure the distance you’ve travelled since you knew even less does build a corporate sense of stability. And whatever the previous experience people come in with, the ensemble needs to do that journey together to generate that shared history.)

Anyway, we had three hours, and found several times that we were opening up more questions and ideas to explore than would fit in the time and had to move on. I was a little concerned at the time at my own failure to bring the discussions to more settled conclusions, but I guess if the problem is that there are too many interesting areas to explore, that’s better than there not being enough!

We used a three-stage process. Part 1 was about the teams values and aspirations - the human and artistic qualities that mattered most to them in general - to act as a frame for the more specific discussions about the chorus to follow. Part 2 was about the chorus as it is now, and where they’d like to head - turning those values into goals. Part 3 was about specific policy decisions the team is responsible for.

The bit I’d like to reflect on here is Part 2, as I found the process of turning general belief structures into concrete actions a fascinating experience, and one that held the potential to generate lots more possibilities than we had time for. We took the picture of the chorus as it currently is generated by the group, and then compared it with an imaginary chorus that had the attributes the team had identified in Part 1 as the artistic qualities they most valued. What would that imaginary chorus be doing differently from the real chorus we’ve just described?

The answers organised themselves into three very clear areas. The first answers were quite abstract (to do with levels of confidence, ambition and commitment), and then gradually unfolded into descriptions of performance elements and rehearsal practices. The performance list were things an audience would notice: unity of sound, for example, or natural movement. The second were things that chorus members would perceive about their experience of chorus night: less talking and more singing, or better time-keeping.

There were several things about the way these lists emerged I’d like to reflect on. The first was the way the abstract goals related both to performance and rehearsal elements. High energy levels, for example, was identified first as something an audience would respond to, then added to the rehearsal column as equally relevant there. This apparently rather obvious point tells us something quite significant about the closeness of the relationship between rehearsal and performance. The values you bring to your rehearsal are those that will shape your audience’s experience in performance, and the kind of experience you generate in rehearsal is a good predictor for the kind of experience you will generate in performance. If you want to send your listeners away buzzing, aim to send your singers away in that state after rehearsal every week.

The next point is that whilst these descriptions give a fabulously vivid way to picture how the team wants the chorus to develop, it isn’t necessarily obvious which are goals and which are performance indicators. People doing more individual work between rehearsals is a clear, concrete description of what you’d see in their ideal future chorus, but whether this is an action you need to work on in order to deliver a faster learning experience and thus greater engagement, or whether it is an outcome that will tell you that people are feeling more motivated is not a given. The important thing of course is that the team are asking that question.

The third point is the way that turning the abstract points into concrete actions is extraordinarily productive for both identifying things that team members can do immediately and for articulating longer-term development needs. We took the example of confidence: what can we do to increase the confidence of our current singers and thus make them more like the imagined ideal of the future?

The answers included specific feedback on current rehearsal practices that are useful (‘my section appreciate time together as a section’) and that need attention (‘I notice I feel less confident in rehearsal when the warm-up focuses on the middle range and we start in on repertoire that uses high notes I’ve not had the chance get sung in properly’). They induced reflection (‘I could be a better role model in how well-prepared I come to rehearsal’) and ideas for future reflection (‘We should notice how often we give positive feedback explicitly rather than assuming people know they’ve done well’).

You can see how we found ourselves with more things to think about than time to discuss it in. This blog post is likewise getting a bit on the long side, and I’ve got two or three more penny-drop issues noted in my thinking book for further mulling. The one other thing I’ll add for today is also obvious but always worth saying: I am always impressed and warmed by the care people invest in their choirs and choruses. Whatever the style, whatever the ethos, people really put their hearts into it. Next time you meet someone who helps keep a singing group singing, give them some love; they make the world better for all of us.

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