How to Make a Business Meeting Sing

September 11, 2013 — 2 Comments


Moments after this photo was taken, the members of this meeting stood up and sang to me.

Ever had a business meeting end with people spontaneously bursting into song?

Before last week, neither had I. I’ve been in meetings all around the world—Glasgow, Moscow, New York, Tokyo—and they’ve all concluded the same way, with standard-issue pleasantries and firm handshakes.

But last week was different. I was in a meeting with a group of Māori business leaders in town from New Zealand for a hands-on Design Thinking Boot Camp at Stanford Business School. They came to IDEO for a tour, and we had a question and answer session about our work. As our time together was coming to a close, all 45 of them got up from their chairs and began belting out a traditional Māori song, thanking us for the time we spent together. They were very loud and very good! The outburst caught the ears of others in the studio and the back of our conference room quickly filled up with curious colleagues. When the song ended, we all erupted in enthusiastic applause.

This was not your average team-building session of corporate karaoke. The visitors were heads of companies and government leaders from across New Zealand. They weren’t singing a corporate jingle or national anthem, but sharing a traditional parting gesture after meeting new people.

The group was deeply in touch with why they were in business and how their culture brought meaning to their work. It made me realize that in most other parts of the world, we consciously try to separate our cultural experiences from our work lives—sidelining them to a trip to the theater, or to the museum.

While I did ultimately end up saying goodbye to my new Māori friends with standard-issue pleasantries and firm handshakes, I left the experience feeling a deeper connection to them as people and a strong desire to remain in touch.

It made we wonder: how much more meaningful might our work be if it was more closely interwoven with our culture?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog) 

Tim Brown


2 responses to How to Make a Business Meeting Sing

  1. I love this story. The organization on whose board I am honored to serve (International Play Association) recently led the effort that resulted in a General Comment being adopted by the UNCRC on article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Don’t worry. Two years ago I wouldn’t have had any idea what that meant either. But, briefly, the UN is using our work to bring the world’s attention to the child’s right to play, to have rest and leisure time, and to engage in art and culture. Play and culture. Two things you don’t hear much about any more. I love what you wrote. I love that the New Zealand business men (all men?) honor their culture. Your story left me with things stewing inside. Can’t put my finger on what it’s about yet, but I just wanted to say thank you.

  2. It’s not just business meetings they do this at… You might like this beautiful video Tim –

    The NZ parliament burst into a traditional Maori love song when they passed a law recently to equalise marriage for lesbians and gays (an act driven by a Maori politician). If only our leaders in the UK and US had as strong a connection to their cultures :) Or perhaps it’s just that Maori culture understands that being a good human being means putting effort into connecting as a human being with others, into respecting and nurturing each other and our precious planet, not treating others and the planet as pawns in our own personal chess games,,,

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