Organizational Culture: Lessons From A High School Musical

This past week our seventeen-year daughter, Hayley, performed in an amazing high school musical production of Les Misérables. Months of preparation went into this production. As these young people prepared themselves for a performance, I witnessed organizational culture at its very finest.

Here it was: a group of ninety youth (from grade nine through twelve), all focused on a shared vision, all deeply engaged in the project, all passionate about their work, with high energy, and servant leadership. I sat back and just took in the buzz with absolute awe. I started to think, “What if we could create this kind of organizational culture in a workplace?” With the right ingredients, focus, and leadership, I believe it’s possible because I’ve seen it done.

Here are some lessons from this high school musical theater production that I believe can be applied to any organization.

  1. Leadership with a vision. Merilie Stonewall, the artistic director at Hayley’s high school, had a vision to  produce this musical years ago when she first saw Les Misérables and was spell bound. Then she waited nine years after the rights became available for the special talent needed to cross the band room threshold. Everyone – from the actors to the crew and set designers to the tech staff, had a vision of the end result.
  2. Leadership inspired by love. Merrilie has invested years of her life into her students at Cochrane High School. She cares deeply for her work and her students. She has never, in all her years of teaching, ever fallen out of love with her work or her students. It is inspiring simply to be around her. Merrilie’s credibility was earned long before the first audition. It’s built on her love and commitment to youth and to music. And everyone knows it.
  3. Everyone’s talent was needed. Everyone in the production – from grade nine to grade twelve – contributed. Everyone made a difference. And everyone knew their important piece they played in the puzzle. When talent gets aligned with the vision, loyalty, passion, and energy is the result.
  4. High standards of performance were set and expected. No one ever takes pride in doing something easy. Every person on this musical team was stretched and pushed beyond their comfort zone. Football players were inspired to sing in lead roles, work on technical support or paint sets.  Shy kids were coached out of the woodwork to bring their unique talents forward. High standards were set and reached.
  5. Open communication. Conversations were going on continuously. Everyone seemed to be communicating with everyone. Roles were clear and openness abounded.
  6. Work was fun. Even in the midst of high expectations, everyone somehow knew that the goal of all this, was to be in the moment of creative human expression. If we aren’t truly enjoying ourselves, what’s it all for anyway? Ms. Stonewall, like all great leaders, understands that the work is merely a means to a much higher end: the building of stronger, more confident youth. She, like all who watched this production unfold in the past months, knew that the experience and memory of being on this team will stay with these kids the rest of their lives.
  7. Results. Results are essential as they are the ultimate measure of success. Hundreds of people in our community attending a sellout performance for five straight nights. Five straight standing ovations. It was as good of a product as you will see anywhere from an amateur theater group. When a team produces these kind of results everyone wins, and everyone on the team knows they made a difference in making that happen.

What a vision to aspire to, as we bring our passion and unique gifts to our work.