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The Beatles and the art of teamwork

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Paul strums his guitar in a London studio. George yawns and Ringo watches weakly. John is late, as always. Suddenly, the magic. A melody begins to take shape; George joins with his guitar; Ringo begins to beat a rhythm. When John arrives, one realizes with a thrill of excitement that the new Beatles single, Get back, is clearly recognizable.

Get back provides both the highlight and the title of a stunning new documentary by Peter Jackson, which traces the days the group spent together in January 1969 writing and recording songs for a new album. For anyone interested in music, pop culture or creativity, the film is like a sock full of goodies. When George struggles to find a next sentence “something in the way she moves”(Something in the way she moves), John has a tip. “Just say what’s on your mind every time – like ‘attracts me like a cauliflower‘(attracts me like a cauliflower) – until you find the right words ”.

Business executives should watch it too. The question of what makes a team work is one of the pillars of business management research, and the Beatles documentary is a rare chance to see a truly world-class team at work. It reinforces known principles and adds new ones.

Just think of the role of Ringo. When not playing, the band’s drummer spends most of his time sleeping or looking dazed. When the other three musicians argue, he smiles blissfully. To a distracted observer it might appear to be an expendable element. But musically, there is nothing that works without him, and as a team member he eases conflicts and mends divisions.

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Psychological reconciliation plays an important role in the functioning of the teams. Some scholars from Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that the quality of the performance of the groups is not linked to the average intelligence of those in it, but to characteristics such as sensitivity and their ability to give to each component the time to speak. Ringo provides support: the complex would be less cohesive without him.

Another principle reinforced by the film is this: search wherever possible for inspiration. In a McKinsey study, more than five thousand business executives were asked to describe the environment in which they had their best teamwork experiences. Among other things, the consulting agency has identified the importance of “renewal”, or the habit of keeping away the lack of originality by taking risks, learning from others and innovating.

Happy help
Get back shows a team of superstars adopting precisely that kind of ethic: playing songs from other bands, appropriating other people’s ideas as magpies, and happily accepting the advice and help of strangers. It’s the entrance of a pianist named Billy Preston – whom the Beatles knew from their inception when they played in Hamburg – that allows the recording session to really take off (let’s make him the fifth Beatle, John suggests. “We already enough problems in four ”, replies sadly Paul).

The third message of the film is about when and how to make this possible. In a 2016 initiative called the Aristotle project, Google sought to define the characteristics of its most effective teams. One of the things he found is that goals need to be “specific, challenging and achievable”.

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When they first met, on the second day of 1969, the Beatles had a task that more or less fell within these criteria: writing enough songs to create a new album in a few days, then playing them on a television special. But how to do it was mostly left to their initiative. Things don’t always go the right way. At some point Paul wants a “dominant father figure” to make him meet deadlines. Yet the combination of deadlines and autonomy yields remarkable results.

There are limits to what you can learn from Get back. The Beatles are not always sympathetic to each other: George, feeling ignored by John and Paul, leaves the group for a short time. Drugs have played a part in their production and LSD can be taboo for some managers. While technical ability isn’t the only determining factor in their success, it’s true that sheer talent has helped them. Any band with a Lennon, a McCartney and a Harrison would have an advantage.

But there is a broader lesson that comes loud and clear. The Beatles love what they do. When they’re not playing, they talk about music or think about it. They make recording after recording of their own songs and improvise constantly. Managers who think building team spirit requires a separate activity from work – a moment of pure recreation, devoted to activities like ax throwing or gif battles or something equally horrific – don’t get a point. basic. The most efficient teams derive their greatest satisfaction not from each other, but from the work they do together.

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(Translation by Federico Ferrone)


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