Leading Teams is Like Conducting an Orchestra - in conversation with Niven Al-Khoury

Insights from Leaders
3 min readJul 15, 2021
Image from Unsplash by Larisa Birta

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” — H.E. Luccock

The best analogy to understand teamwork is to understand the workings of an orchestra. Music ensembles achieve synergy in excellent music and enjoyable performances. Without a cohesive team, no performance can shine. The same goes for any corporate organization. The team is like the orchestra, and its leader is the conductor of the orchestra.

We are in conversation with Niven Al-Khoury, strategic business partner and champion of sustainable growth. Niven leads with a purpose, and she leads teams to work together — in order to perform in perfect sync. We’re discussing her leadership style.

Niven, your method of working positions you as a ‘conductor of an orchestra’. You are able to sense when someone is out of tone, and effectively bring each instrument back to tune. Tell us more about this analogy and your style of leadership.

“Teamwork in an organization is like performing a piece of music. Each employee works as a member of a world-class orchestra — every note perfectly timed in synchronized harmony. When listening to any song or musical ensemble, one is able to identify the feeling when you hear the music soar and each instrument becomes part of a glorious song. That is teamwork at its best, and it is the analogy I use as a leader.

“The members of an orchestra are provided with all the information they need to perform their part. Each instrument has a personal road map in the music to focus on, and each individual part shows when to play, when to pause, when to speed up, and when to slow down. All together, they are able to create a melody. Just like employees together are able to achieve success for their organization.

“The flow and coordination are essential in an orchestra. If one instrument is lacking, no other can make up for it. If the piano player is missing, the flute cannot substitute its sound. Similarly in an organization, each individual employee and each department is essential, they all need to bring their best selves and they all must work together in harmony. This business model structure, which states that everyone has a role to play, each role represents a value, and everyone contributes to the final vision — is what I believe in.

“Trust between people is critical. Every instrument needs to know the right time to chime in. The mission is not to play louder than the rest, instead, it is to ensure a beautiful blend of every individual sound. Team members (or orchestra members) must possess a collectivistic mindset. Every member can play their own instrument perfectly, but that means nothing if the tones aren’t aligned. Everyone must fathom their role in the journey to achieving that ultimate vision.

“On another level, speaking of teams, diversity and inclusion are crucial. Can you imagine an orchestra with one instrument? It would sound dull. The more diverse the instruments (or team members), the better the harmony. Diversity allows balanced, sustainable success and reduces room for blind spots.

“As a leader or conductor of the orchestra, there is only so much I can do to ensure the feeling of an aligned vision. At some point, it needs to come innately. Oftentimes, my role is to lead the thought process of team members, to ensure we all underwrite the same vision and the same goal. That is the base for a synchronized performance.”

Thanks, Niven, that’s a very interesting analogy.



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