Metro Plus – Monday 13th June 2005
Drum up a little team spirit in the workplace
By Tanis Taylor

Percussion without repercussions is the latest corporate teambuilding exercise, as Tanis Taylor discovers

The din as I approach The Bridge Club is deafening . Soundproofed and bult into catacombs, the venue is nonetheless making London Bridge shake. Inside, the source of the noise becomes clear. Two hundred and forty employees of the Slug and Lettuce bar chain are learning about management, unity and group empowerment under the proud tutelage of Burkina Faso’s Baba Kone. Knuckles are white. Brows are beaded. The noise is dreadful. In the second row, a woman hammers out a bass line with her handbag still clamped tight under her arm.

Up front, a man has loosened his tie, surrendering to the groove. Neither has the slightest sense of rhythm but nobody seems to care. These are the faces of the blissfully unaware, everyone is grinning broadly. The aim of team building company Drum Cafe is the “unite, uplift and inspire through synchronicity.

“Group drumming is about sharing, listening each other and playing to the same beat, much as a successful company does,” states the flyer. It’s a stretch but the analogy between a rhythm section and a streamlined team seems to work and has been successful exploited by blue-chip companies such as BP, Barclays and Unilever. Streamlined is not the word I would use to describe the Slug and Lettuce collective. But just by taking part, start to sing from the same songsheet, realise that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and any number of other rousing corporate catchphrases.

The workshop requires participants to follow instructions collectively, which is where Baba comes in. after the group has exhausted its urge to make as much noise as possible, he starts with the basics-a-call-and-response session. Baba bags out a beat. The obedient response comes thundering back. He does it again, with a twist. Again the reply. His troupe is speaking with one voice, bar Maureen, who has fake nails, so leaves a little acrylic echo. Baba is brilliant, raising the energy levels to fever pitch then notching them back down again. The beat courses through our bodies like a collective heartbeat. When we’ve got a handle on our bassline Baba lays a rhythm over the top.

We provide the metronome; his is the agile melody turning sound into song. When he stops, we bask, taking absurd pride in our joint effort. While we’re drumming, the corporate benefits of the sessions takes back seat. The day is about noise and adrenaline, but afterwards there will be a thorough debriefing back at base about how it bounded colleagues and cemented teams. “It has a surprisingly potent effect on people”, says South African Brett Schlesinger, a director of drum cafe. “The energy of one drum is powerful but synergy of one hundreds of drums beaten in harmony is primal and powerful and raises the energy level of groups.” It’s true. The energy in the room is electric.

And although the triumph belongs to the group, the contribution of each person has been essential. At the start of the day. colleagues behave in character. While the alpha males set upon the drums and beat them with relish, the girls from accounts hang back, tapping them gingerly like keyboards. But after a while those disparate sounds meld into one. Once the rhythm becomes the rhythm of the group and not just that of one individual, people become They stop thinking about what to do and start feeling it, safe in the collective. By the time we gather on stage to perform our various part (we are divided into four bands of 60), people have lost their inhibitions and their eyes are closed in rapt engagement.

It’s a primal instinct given a modern application. “Drums have been used for thousands of years to bring people together, to celebrate, to prepare for battle, to mourn, “says Schlesinger. In a small, remote West African village – where you rely on your neighbour and are only and are only as strong as the group – this is considered vital, a means to survival. But, argues Schlesinger, who is to say that it isn’t just as important in an increasingly fractured corporate world?

One in which you rely on your colleagues professionally but might not even know their names? Maureen is flanked by two men from the Manchester office. She’s not met either of them before today, and chances are she won’t meet them again. But for a while they are all in sync, laughing, taking instructions and together marching to the beat of the group drum.