“Make Music, Build Teams!” by Jacqueline Durett

Is your sales staff out of sync? Make Music, Build Teams Is your sales staff out of sync? Is your team lacking rhythm? Drum Cafe could be the solution to getting your team back in the groove. Jacqueline Durett

If only turning your staff around were as easy as turning the beat around. Well, maybe it is. If you’re looking for a team-building exercise that doesn’t involve trust falls or spirit sticks, Drum Café may be just what you need.

“We use group drumming to support teamwork and communication in the corporate community,” says Aviva Nash, president of Drum Café New York. Drum Café is an international organization that travels to companies, bringing with it its high-energy brand of beats.

While Drum Café’s New York branch is in its third year, the program started a decade ago in South Africa under the leadership of an entrepreneur named Warren Lieberman. Lieberman, quite the drumming fan, often had performers, including Nash, whom he knew from high school, at his impromptu sessions. “And it got so popular and exciting that all of a sudden, a couple of hundred people would arrive at his house to drum,” Nash says. Lieberman eventually moved the group from its informal meeting places to the national spotlight. As South Africa’s black community started integrating into the corporate world, the drumming program was an effective way to unite cultures.

“Drum Café,” Nash says, “suddenly became synonymous with staff training, team building, development and recruitment.” The organization has spread so much since then that there are now locations worldwide, but the original, Nash says, still thrives in South Africa. So what compels a company to hire Drum Café? Nash says companies realize a creative program will inspire more creativity, which she illustrates through describing a typical session.

When participants enter the room, Nash says, they’ll first hear and then look: First they’ll hear the professionals getting a rhythm going, and then they’ll see a drum on each seat. In order to sit, each participant must pick up his drum and play along. Nash says it takes about 30 seconds to bring everyone into a united beat.

The session’s second part involves the drummers teaching participants complex beats, and through that, Nash says, participants see that as a group, they can acquire skills much faster than as individuals. “Not only is it empowering to the group, but also the individual,” she says. That part of the session concludes with a performance by the pros, whom Drum Café seeks out from all over the world, on skin-covered hand drums called “djembes.” Since so many of Drum Café’s programs center on diversity, Nash says she likes to have a diverse drumming group—or what she calls “an international forum on stage.” For the drummers, she says, this is a way of life. “[Their] hands are like leather from beating the drums since they were like four years old.”

For the finale, Drum Café hands out percussion instruments, driving home the importance of a company’s small voices and nuances. Then there is a final jam, where participants are encouraged to be innovative “because the support of the group will always bring them back to the beat,” Nash says. Participants learn that as they solidify the company beat, they will get more energy back than what they are putting in, which, Nash says, “is the ideal for the work environment.”

Each Drum Café program is customized to a given company’s needs, such as team building, conflict resolution or diversity training; the facilitator and drummers create exercises centered around the goal. “They come to us for just about anything,” Nash jokes of the multitude of purposes a company has for hiring them, “except we don’t sell hamburgers; we sell drum-burgers.”

Earnestine Perry, a public relations manager with insurance provider Kaiser Permanente, says she brought Drum Café to her Atlanta location two years ago for the annual managers’ leadership conference. The performance is still fresh in her mind. “I thought it was really phenomenal,” says Perry, one of the employees charged with organizing the conference. She says she found Drum Café through the Internet, and liked that they worked with some nearby companies, such as Coca-Cola.

Perry says she was thrilled with the results. “This was intended to truly be a team-building experience. [Drum Café] got it. They understood what our goals were.”

Nash, who also serves as a facilitator, attributes Drum Café’s success to many elements. The first is the undeniable appeal of a drumbeat—one that closely mirrors one’s own heartbeat. She also says that the program emphasizes important concepts such as taking risks, boosting self-esteem and being innovative. Additionally, the unity in drumming breaks down barriers between participants. She also says that through drumming, participants relieve stress through rhythmic, left-hand, right-hand drumming.

However, the emotional draw is vital, too. “We create a group that is supportive. One of the benefits of a Drum Café session is that it’s cooperative rather than competitive. We’re not standing up there with karaoke and having everyone laugh at one person. Our philosophy is that if we listen to each other, while keeping integrity to the bass beat—which essentially is the company mission or ultimate vision—then as a group, as a company—[employees’] potential is unlimited.”