structure…freedom: is it an either or?

Charles Mingus

I was in a dialogue today with the team considering the flow of a two day team development event we are facilitating.

One thing that emerged was the tension between structure and freedom.  After the dialogue, I was listening to Radio 3 Composer of the week, Charles Mingus.  I was affected by the music as I was working so I took some time to look at Mingus’ work.

I often use the metaphor of Jazz for our work.  The ability to be in the moment, spontaneously creative.  To be able to ‘jam’ with the interaction between participants, where we build on each others contribution to co-create something new, fresh, innovative and invigorating.  To hold the balance of structure with freedom.  To make space for others contributions to flourish, and at the same time to be able to make my own unique contribution.

Came across these sleeve notes written by Mingus which really struck me.  He was opening up this dilemma: structure vs. spontaneity.  He spoke of how great composers (from classical and jazz) create something new , then improvise round that creation.  That structure is not antithetical to creativity, but rather can be a container and enabler for it.  That some musicians create colour and texture in variations on a theme that requires a very high degree of both creativity and craftsmanship.

In our dialogue we explored the dangers inherent with an extreme emphasis on one way.  Either avoiding structure out of fear of being controlled, or on the other hand, seeking too tight a structure out of fear of being exposed.

Of course, this is further complicated by how the client group may respond.  And this is dependent on many factors.  Their level of trust in us as facilitators.  How comfortable they are with ambiguity, and the maturity of the group to name a few.

So, how does one go about preparing for an event like this?  I guess it’s a bit like the story of the minister who was asked how long it took him to prepare his recent sermon from a young wannabe preacher.  “Forty years,” he replied.  His work was woven from his life journey.

So preparing for the work is preparing ourselves.  Doing the basics well (being able to play the scales and understand the instrument with expertise), creating the right amount of structure and being able to bring other melodies or rhythms to bear in the mix if they are required.

And when all is said and done, we are brought in as external facilitators to deliver an outcome, or series of outcomes: so the design, the process, the approach are all orientated towards helping the client  towards this goal.

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