How to Make a Business Meeting Sing

September 11, 2013

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)