Music in the Meeting Room: Beethoven's 9th? - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #264

Music in the Meeting Room: Beethoven’s 9th?

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The power of music in leadership and the development of trust is widely recognised. So, too, is the value of face-to-face meetings, which, despite a battery of technological alternatives, are still commonplace in organizations. The possible synergies between music and meetings, however, have been overlooked. Managers are missing an opportunity to improve productivity, efficiency and teamwork. Is it time for music, long a feature of corporate events, to make it to the company meeting room?



Music transforms experience … from the humdrum, the everyday, into something else … Music is used in theater, it is used in movies, it is used to ratify revolutions … Other experiences transform our lives, but none so universally … [Music is] one of the most important of man’s activities, and one gauge of its importance is the universality, or near-universality, of its effect on the human mind.

David P. McAllester, ethnomusicologist, 1971.

The power of music and its ability to affect people in ways other art forms and the spoken or written word can’t is widely acknowledged by anthropologists and other academics. Making music has been associated with the release of the neuro-chemical oxytocin, known to be involved in the development of bonds between people and ‘in-group bias’ (see Idea #184); listening to music has been associated with the cognitive development of babies and children.

But what does music mean to managers? Anecdotal evidence and a review of the research suggest they are failing to see and exploit its full potential.

On the face of it, use of music by companies and other organizations is widespread. Enlightened factory managers play music to improve the morale of employees performing repetitive tasks; dentists and surgeons play it to calm and relax patients.

Music is a feature of almost every corporate event and award ceremony, used to rally the troops — or simply to entertain. The ubiquity of music in modern life, made possible by new technologies such as the iPod, is reflected in modern organizations.

There’s one area, however, from which it remains absent: the meeting room.

This is a failure that needs to be addressed. Meetings can be extremely inefficient, taking up a disproportionate amount of senior leadership and staff time — and music can help solve the problem.

In particular, there are five key and complementary aspects of the power of music that can be brought to bear on meetings.

  • Emotion and mood: Emotions can help stimulate the kinds of discussions that ultimately lead to the ‘right’ and rational decisions, but they can also dominate meetings in negative or destructive ways. The use of music to ‘civilise’ the tone of a meeting is a way to avoid their harmful effects.
  • ‘Tribal glue’ and trust: When people arrive at meetings, they typically do so from different immediate prior experiences. Reaching consensus while everyone is in different moods and different frames of mind is difficult. Making music together leads to the diminution of strong feelings of self — and a concomitant rise in the ability to co-operate with others and share knowledge.
  • Cognition: Music can be a cognitive ‘anchor’ that improves participants’ ability to focus; ‘tactical’ use of well-known pieces of music at key points can help people retain key information. (You only have to think of the advertising jingles that keep ‘popping into’ your head, even from early childhood, to see the link between music and memory.)
  • Stress release: The physical movement stimulated by music — toe and finger tapping etc — is good for the release of tension and stress and helps clear minds.
  • Humour: The humorous use of songs and the adaptation of lyrics can, like the movement stimulated by music, break down cognitive and emotional barriers by relieving stress.


So how can managers best explore the possibilities of music — and use it to make meetings better? Specific options include:

  • Identifying music that will improve co-operation and concentration and playing it at suitable times, either before or during the meeting; startling the group with a rousing interlude at ‘dozy’ times. (Anecdotal evidence suggests ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s ninth symphony might be particularly effective.)
  • Sticking to instrumental music when complex and difficult matters are to be discussed. (Lyrics can be distracting.)
  • Exploiting the ability of music to add a special emotional element to a message to assist memory.
  • Using shared musical experiences, e.g. drumming or singing, to reinforce group identity when an untypical combination of people is present or when interactions have become stereotyped.
  • Inviting musical members of staff or their families to select or compose music that will complement a new corporate vision or initiative and encouraging staff to sing the lyrics; playing a recording — possibly by a good staff group — in the canteen.
  • Finding ways to use your own voice to increase the impact of key announcements.
  • Experimenting with musical interventions and encouraging others’ efforts to do the same.



Improving the quality of meetings using music. Caroline Van Niekerk & Roy Page-Shipp. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence (July 2013).

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Idea conceived

July 1, 2013

Idea posted

Nov 2013
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