CONDUCTING A STRING QUARTET
For the Quatuor Annesci String Quartet experience, partners are put in charge of a quartet that has been playing together for decades. But the musicians have been instructed to play as they did during their first rehearsal together. The partners are instructed to get them to play back at their ability level. Shepherd describes it as “not too great in sound.”
“The analogy of music is one people find very easy no matter what background you come from,” Shepherd says. “The analogy is about creating harmony together and really listening and attuning with others. Partners learn to signal intentions, and to lead when appropriate or follow or step in and intervene.”
‘THROWING OFF’ AN INTELLIGENT GROUP
Parker says the point of the unconventional learning experiences is to throw off an incredibly intelligent group of people.
“We want to do something that is going to be surprising to people,” Parker explains. “If you already have a deep intellectual understanding of a topic or idea, you are less likely to gain from an experience. In a class about leadership of a project team, a partner will be four steps ahead of the professor and have decided what they want to learn. We want to come at maybe the same topics from an unusual angle. Music appeals to a lot of people. A string quartet without a conductor parallels a team that does not have a leader.”
Sean Monahan, a partner at A.T. Kearney with more than 25 years of industry and management and consulting experience, was part of the first cohort to go through the program. The unusual experiences were something that required a shift of mindset.
“As consultants, we are judging people before they open their mouths,” Monahan says. “It’s our job to judge and criticize. They told us going into the program if what we are doing seems screwy, just give it some time. It helped to go into it with openness. That made a difference.”
BEING OPEN TO THE UNCONVENTIONAL
The openness led to deeper learning and relationships.
“It’s very important that people do not think of the program as training. It is not training,” Monahan says. “It is truly about personal development and growth and a deeper sense of self-awareness. What are your individual strengths and weaknesses? How do you leverage those strengths and aspirations as an individual to become a more effective leader?”
Monahan, who has been a partner at A.T. Kearney for almost 14 years, says the experience helped him take the ability to do his job to the next level.
“I think at A.T. Kearney, we can be more humble than some of our competitive colleagues at other firms,” Monahan explains. “The program helped us leverage our confidence—not to become arrogant but to become more confident.”
For Monahan, that looks like being bolder in relations with clients and bolder in thinking about solutions for clients. It’s also helped him take his relationships with clients to a higher stage of maturity and connection, he says. “Often we go into a client meeting with a 10-page brief,” says Monahan. “It says here’s about us and here’s about you and this is our solution. Now I just engage in a conversation. I throw away the crutch and engage more on a personal level.”
DEEPER RELATIONS IN AND OUT OF THE FIRM
It has also helped Monahan feel more connected in such a large firm.
“One thing that’s been great is having a shared language and shared experience that deepens bonds,” says Monahan. “There were people I didn’t know before being in a cohort with them, and it took three weeks to develop deeper relationships than (I had) with people I had known for 20 years. And then the people I have known for 20 years go through it and it strengthens our bond. It makes us more effective in working together and with clients.”
Shepherd says the feedback is akin to what Monahan reports.
“Many of the colleagues have had superficial and transactional relationships and are delighted to develop those relationships into friendships,” Shepherd explains. “It’s a program that touches people emotionally and invites them to think philosophically about big questions. What has surprised us is some people have reported it being life changing. They are applying it to their relationships with spouses and children.”
Likewise, Parker says it has allowed partners to marry the purpose of being a partner with the life they want to lead.
“There has been a greater skill and passion about our firm and how we are different from some of our competitors,” says Parker. “I’ve heard lots of stories where new confidence has led to the ability to challenge clients or take on a difficult conversation or respond to and speak honestly with clients, which has led to deeper and better relationships.”