Cohesion is the invisible force that keeps a team together and is the basis for high performance as a unit. And perhaps nowhere is cohesion better demonstrated than
by the career of the Rolling Stones, who celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. During the last half-century, they have played in more places to more people than any other band — and their most recent member, Ronnie Wood, joined nearly 40 years ago.
In the beginning it was music and a shared passion for American R&B that brought them together. A Best Of Muddy Waters album provided the initial spark when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger met at the railway station in their hometown of Dartford, Kent, in 1960.
One of the tracks on it — 'Rollin' Stone' — gave
the group their name.
Early cohesion came from spending a lot of
time together. The band lived, played and went everywhere together, piled in the back of a van along with their kit. Shared experiences and especially early success helped reinforce the team's gelling together. In their initial guise as outlaws there was also a sense of the Stones united against the world, further strengthening their sense of belonging.
Harmonising is about emphasising differences together. From the outset, the Stones' music married lead, rhythm and bass guitars, drums, harmonica and Jagger's vocals. Cohesion grew based on the team's recognition that each member of the band was a master of his own instrument or voice. The Stones' alchemy also represented a fusion of different personalities
and passions. The dynamic between Jagger and Richards is the group's musical engine. While they dubbed themselves the Glimmer Twins, drummer Charlie Watts' description is perhaps more apt. He calls them brothers... but brothers who fight a lot. Their differences could not be more pronounced.
On stage Jagger is a natural showman. He also takes the lead as the driving force in the Stones organisation and their highly lucrative business empire. It was Jagger who had the insight to bring in merchant banker Prince Rupert Loewenstein to turn around the band's fortunes in the late 1960s. His need to control is legendary, as Martin Scorsese discovered when filming the Stones performance at New York's Beacon Theatre for his Shine A Light documentary. Right up to the last moment, Jagger would not reveal the set list to the Oscar-winning director, despite Scorsese urgently needing to know.
Compared to Jagger's vision and need for a clear plan, Richards claims his only ambition has been to be in the Rolling Stones and to make records. Taking things day by day, "happy to just wake up", he writes music and lives much more loosely. If Jagger is the band's CEO, Richards is its musical spirit. In his words, "Mick's Rock, I'm Roll." The essential creative abrasion between Jagger and Richards is kept in balance by the solid, straightforward nature of Watts and the diplomatic approach of Wood. With his infectious enthusiasm, coupled with the instinct of a seasoned peace negotiator, Wood has acted
as middleman more than once, reconnecting Jagger and Richards and keeping the lines of communication open.
Not fade away
While skill is often the key criterion for selection, the chemistry between members can be vital
in ensuring both creativity and longevity. The Stones' performance on record and on stage is the result of a collision of their distinctive natures. The combination of these combustible elements is also, however, inherently unstable. Over the years this conflict has pushed the team close
to breaking point. The challenge for the Stones — similar to that for many other teams — is in containing and channelling the fission, to build cohesion and keep the team together.
The drivers that have kept the Stones together and allowed them to overcome these challenges are applicable to all teams. First and foremost,
all four current Stones continue to be strongly connected to their shared passion for music and committed to the goal of being the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world. A common purpose is essential to attracting the right talent, inspiring them to do great work and keeping them together. In terms of delivering fame, money or the chance to play for so many people, no other endeavour has come close in enabling the band members to fill their own personal ambitions, as Jagger discovered with his foray into solo work in the late 1980s. Being a member of the Rolling Stones team continues to be the best way of achieving each individual's goals.
These days, of course, the band only forms when it has to, when necessitated by the common purpose of making music or touring. At other times, the members tend to lead separate lives, retreating to French châteaux or Caribbean hideaways and indulging their own outside pursuits. Wood paints and presents his radio show, Jagger has his film production company, Charlie Watts plays jazz with his big band. When they reconvene they compare to it a war veterans' reunion, battle-scarred but re-energised by the prospect of going out and playing together again.
Teams are at their best when they face challenges that cannot be mastered alone. Unless your objective demands collective action, you will likely get a poor return from the investment you need to make in building a team. As Wood points out, "The Rolling Stones is a vehicle that only works when we put it in motion."
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