Who knew when John, Paul, George and Ringo made their appearance on Ed Sullivan on that fateful day in 1964, corporate trainers would benefit from it more than 40 years later? Yet that's just what Andrew Sobel, president of Santa Fe, N.M.-based management consultancy Andrew Sobel Advisors, suggests. In an article published in the Spring 2006 issue of Strategy + Business magazine, "The Beatles Principles," he points out a surprising number of workforce development lessons trainers can learn from the same group that got teeny boppers bopping. Much more than "Love Me Do."
For one thing, Sobel says, the Beatles had notable chemistry that may have at least partly stemmed from the vast amounts of time they spent together, practicing material face-to-face. At a time when virtual meetings often supplant live gatherings, that might be something trainers should think about, Sobel says. They worked so well together, in fact, they achieved what most corporations strive for in employee relations. "The whole was greater than the sum of the parts," he says. "The four of them together created greater music, were better entertainers than any of them could have been, or were, as individual performers. And, of course, that's what most corporations are trying to do." That's what all those team-building mantras and exercises happen to be about, he notes.
At the same time, each member was known as his own brand, so to speak. Unlike other rock bands of the time—say The Rolling Stones or The Who—most people you ask will be able to name each member of the Beatles. They melded together seamlessly as a team, but still were the recipients of individual recognition, a nice balance to remember as you consider how best to heap accolades on your workers. Build teams and encourage partnership, but don't forget about the importance of individual achievement.
Also worth noting is the attention the group made sure Ringo Starr, as the drummer, received. While not one of the leading songwriters or singers, he was literally given a platform of his own with his place on the stage typically raised up high in the backdrop behind his band mates. Similarly, both he and George Harrison, also not a leading player in the group, were given a chance to sing on their own: Starr, for instance, on "A Little Help from My Friends," Harrison on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Something."
The blending of dissimilar personalities is also worth remembering when thinking of those lovable moptops. Despite their carefree exterior, there were some formidable differences under the surface. John Lennon was idealistic, but also tormented, while Paul McCartney tended toward a cheery optimism. Sobel says to remember when putting work groups together that contrasting personalities don't have to clash into disaster. They just may create a beautiful harmony together, he says.
The Beatles were also great innovators, a principle you might want to remember when working to establish corporate culture. Despite the mega-success of their first album, the second was such a departure, some fans even—albeit temporarily—bolted. "With each record that came out, they wanted a new sound," Sobel stresses. "You don't want to go back year after year singing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.'"
You also might want to take a hint from the band (nearly) everyone loves the next time you need to address your workforce. While The Beatles were wildly successful both creatively and commercially, they never appeared to let it go to their heads. They remembered to laugh, Sobel says. —M.W.
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