When teams are at their peak, there are ways of executing together that anyone outside of the team may or may not even be able to observe. Little looks and phrases become cues for Harmony that is hard to duplicate. While the reason for being together may be stressful, those hours of work start to build up muscles that become second nature. In one season, I was in meetings 3 times a day with the same people – 6 days a week. We got tight enough to really understand how to cover for each other’s faults, and build on the strengths in ways that most teams will never experience. What causes that Harmony?
Marilyn McCoo is the other voice/leader that most people identify with The Fifth Dimension. She was born in New Jersey to two Doctors – not an easy achievement in the 40’s – and she eventually moved out to LA where she made her first appearance on the Art Linkletter Talent Show at 15. She graduated from UCLA in 1962 with a degree in Business, and as noted earlier, entered and won the Miss Bronze California’s Talent competition. She was part of the original founders with Lamonte and Billy, and helped recruit Flo.
We return to Laura Nyro, and a song she wrote when only 18 as a mini-suite, with lots of dramatic rhythm changes. Her producer “didn’t allow her” to execute it that way, and later she mostly disavowed her first album. Bones was looking for other material for the Aquarius album and went back to the combination that made Stone Soul Picnic and Sweet Blindness hits. This song was originally not released as a single, but when Aquarius finally started to cool off, it was put out and soared to number 1, and it is one of the 5 that would make it to the top of the charts.
Ironically Marilyn was engaged to Billy Davis, Jr. when this was recorded, so it made the obvious staging and singing assignments clear. And as the lead soprano, added to her easy style and grace, she naturally took on a larger role in the remainder of the Fifth Dimensions albums. In fact, by the end the others were mostly the backup singers, until Billy and Marilyn left the group, leaving Flo, Lamonte, and Rowan to reform and execute with other members. The initial Harmony had been replaced with two singers out front…
… both of whom were amazing, but the original beauty of the group was they seamlessly flowed in and out of leading, following, Harmonizing. There is a point in any group where the success that everyone had a hand in creating starts to be “claimed”. In the Team Formation work I do, high-performing teams have members that have been together for 2 years, but typically not more than 5.
That is a real challenge – how to maintain the stability of the Harmony that building something together brings. There is no easy prescription here to offer other than leaders need to be constantly looking at the Team’s relationships – to each other, and to the Team as a whole. In my Team meetings, I made sure I brought content that emphasized the interdependence we had on each other… and the Harmonies we needed to execute on together. I would often align projects with pairs that didn’t know each other so they were forced to get to know each other deeper.
My mother-in-law lamented once “…the good seasons seem so short, and the long seasons seem so bad”. I have noticed the same in my career, and often wonder what makes that true? I caught up with an old friend from one of the seasons that was all of the above – short (3 years) and long (150 hours a week for those years), great (changed my career completely) and terrible (I had to change because it was no longer working). He was there on both sides of all of that, and still smiling, and laughing, and reminding me of the other thing that you notice with teams…
… when you execute together, regardless of outcomes, you build bonds that are impossible to break, and also hard to share. In the crucible, together “in the trenches”, the Harmony is refined by the fire to such an extent that just looks will bring giggles… and tears. The records of the Fifth Dimension after this would become more set pieces for Marilyn and Billy – great in their own right, and they would go onto a wonderful career and marriage of their own. But you do wonder how it could have ended differently. And look at Laura and her producer – same song, very different result. As we are starting to turn from the cold dark winter into the emerging spring of possibilities, what pivot can you execute to avoid …the Blues. The Wedding Bell Blues.