Lessons Learned from A Cappella
In college, I was in an a cappella group called The Tigressions, and it was one of my most fulfilling experiences in college. Years later in real post-college life, I am routinely reminded of the many lessons I learned by being part of a group endeavor. Here are some that are relevant to software and startups:
Blend and diversity
We always talked about blend. Sure you want the great soloists but not everyone can solo all the time, and they need to be able to blend their voices with the group when singing harmony. Some girls had great solo voices, some were incredibly musical and arranged music for vocal groups, and some were very quick learners. The diversity in skills made our group stronger.
Experience isn’t everything
Most of the time all we had was a card they filled out with some of their musical experience info. What we found though, was that sometimes the ones with the most ‘promising’ cards weren’t that great. You can’t imagine how many people we auditioned who had 10 years of voice lessons but were completely tone-deaf, and how many people who said they just sing in the shower who had the most beautiful voices.
The most reliable auditions we had were through ‘referrals,’ or when someone in the group had previously sung with the auditionee in other groups around campus and recruited them to try out.
Don’t lower your bar
Being “blessed” with the ability to hit extraordinary low notes for a female, I was slotted into the role of an alto II, the lowest range in the group. But it’s hard to find people who can hit those low notes, so we were down to two AIIs, and inevitably whenever auditions time rolled around, people would try to justify bringing in someone who was just ok but could technically hit those notes. That’s not fair to them or the group. What we ended up doing instead was moving some of the girls in the group to AIIs while we waited for the right people. They were fast learners and adapted quickly.
Within months, the group size could fluctuate between 10 and 20 members, as people graduated. Once we went on tour with 9 people when we were used to having 15. People stepped up to learn new parts to fill in where they were needed. One thing we could’ve done better was to have more people comfortable with singing solos for each song so that we could have a larger repertoire even when people were missing.
Pairing expedites knowledge transfer
With one quarter of the group leaving each year (on average), and being replaced by completely new people, there needed to be a process for knowledge transfer. Each incoming member was given a “Tigressions mom” who would teach them their parts for existing songs. After a month or so, new members were slowly weaned off and moved to a different part of the formation to fend for themselves. Fun fact: I think I now have Tigressions great great grandchildren.
Culture trickles down
As individual personalities fluctuated with members graduating and new members joining, the culture remained respectful, open and collaborative. Surprisingly, personality and culture fit were not a deciding factor in admitting new members. I think most people auditioned just for the groups they could see themselves fitting into, and each group had fairly established reputations that traced back decades to the very beginning of the groups.
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