Book a Bigger Gig

You could say that I booked the first major club gig for our band because of the opportunity to play in front of a larger audience. Or because of the massive sound system we’d get to run through. Or because we could finally hand out actual tickets – with our band name on them! – to our friends and fans. You could say any of those things, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark, but in truth, I booked it for another, more fundamental reason: our band wasn’t going anywhere at the time.

We’d played block parties, office get-togethers, impromptu jams for friends, even a late-night (very late-night) supporting spot at an obscure club outside Denver. What I noticed, along the way, was that we made all the same mistakes, over and over again; we were ragged in the same places every time, and no one – myself included – had yet put together an ‘A’ show.

Part of the problem was that we weren’t creating any pressure for ourselves.

Our friends loved to get together and have a few beers while we jammed away on rock favorites, but they weren’t exactly going to begin throwing things at us if we flubbed a rideout or misplaced a lyric. In short, we were playing what soccer teams call ‘friendlies’ – events without a lot of downside if we performed poorly.

After six of these in a row, without making any progress as a band, I decided it was time for an ‘unfriendly’ – a real club date, opening for an established band, with real lights, real sound, and a real crowd. We got it – and in preparation for it, everyone stepped up his game. I certainly stepped up mine – and I knew what my motivation was with this booking. But something about the reality of this moment, stepping on stage at a well-known Denver rock bar with our set, caused everyone to put in extra practice hours, double-check stage gear, and make more time for rehearsal.

All of that extra effort was clear the moment we began our set. Our old issues and occasional raggedness vanished onstage; it was easily the best set we’d played to date, and it’s gotten us invited back again and again.

On Stage in the Office

We’ve all experienced this moment in managing groups and teams: the project has stalled. Uncertainty has killed momentum. Tentative steps have replaced bold strides; there is more frivolous debate than forward progress in team meetings, and, as managers, we move from project area to project area, trying to re-ignite the fire that drove the team in the early stages of work. Deadlines have been pushed out once, twice, even three times, and the message from your own executive management is clear: more progress is needed.  At moments like this, don’t overlook the possibility of triggering a uniting event for your team – a ‘deadline within the deadline’ that forces disparate operating groups together for a single intermediate goal.

Often, I’ve invited executives from other areas – sales, marketing, operations, finance – to a project status meeting in which I’ve tasked our project heads with presenting the current roadmap and outcome expectations. Or I’ll schedule an analyst day for project heads to meet with a key industry figure and discuss the project’s goals and progress. Or I’ll ask a project team to get its current progress documentation onto a single sheet of paper.

It’s useful, sure – but it’s got an underlying motive, too.

What I really need is a moment of truth for the team; I need them to pull together for a specific moment in time and feel that sensation of unity and progress again. Often, it’s just enough to get factions talking again and working together to get the project moving forward. Even the task of meeting to discuss a PowerPoint slide for the presentation can be a catalyst to air issues and dismiss old roadblocks. It’s the effect of bright lights, booming sound, and a big crowd; we all get better for those moments.

Trading the comfort of the cubicle for the conference room has the same effect. If your project team or task group is stalled on a plateau, consider booking them a ‘bigger gig.’ You may be surprised at how much progress is made in a very short amount of time.

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Dave Mayer is EVP & Executive Director of Aristeia, Inc.
He can be reached at

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~ by Dave Mayer on January 8, 2010.

One Response to “Book a Bigger Gig”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Schulte, Dave Mayer. Dave Mayer said: New Rockstar Leader post up this AM – 'Book a Bigger Gig.' […]

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