Its 09h50, and dead leaves race by the icy windows of the 15th floor of the sky-rise in downtown Johannesburg. Footsteps muted by the thick pile carpet hurriedly pace towards the dark oak doors which sigh closed on each back as people move into the room. Stilettos vie with polished leather moccasins. Warm greetings, or perhaps clipped “Morning’s” bumble gently off the satin textured wallpaper and the ears of the Chairperson. The tones are muted, subdued, the importance of the meeting – and the people – compete for space. It’s another Board meeting.
Now, the same picture, but as the huge doors fall open to impatient hands, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” wafts across the hallowed halls. Or perhaps its Beethoven’s “Für Elise”. The style is not as important as the tempo (50 – 80 bpm) and the mood or emotion it engenders – as long as it makes you feel positive.
Some may feel that music before a Board meeting – even playing quietly in the background during the meeting – is somehow disrespectful of the importance of the matters (and the people). I have a different perspective – surgeons listen to music! Boards wrestle with diverse problems, masses of information, and hugely complex issues. With economic crises, sustainable development pressures, stakeholder and shareholder demands often at odds, an effective Board needs all the decision-making resources it can find. As long as a Board meeting is genuinely about decision-making, and not just rubber stamping, music could be one of those resources.
Plenty of research has demonstrated the effect of music on our brains, through the release of neurochemicals. One of its primary effects is that it can enhance creativity – not necessarily “let me draw a Picasso”, rather innovation and problem solving, and it stimulates the imagination. Any Board trying to lead in these dynamic times, not just react, needs this.
Music could help in the ebb and flow of the relationships around the Board table too during the meeting. Music can affect how we read others facial expressions. Here, like begets like: happy music = more positive expression interpreted.
Directors are usually strapped for time and often tired. Music has been shown to improve cognitive functioning. The effects are fairly short-lived, so on-going background music can create a necessary awareness and alertness that would aid decision-making.
Music also affects our moods and emotions. When dealing with difficult or negative information and decisions, some positive emotion (assuming we actually like the music that’s playing) could benefit not only the people making the decision, but the decision itself.
Finally, music in board meetings could affect relationships in another way. I can just see a playlist request being circulated with the Board Agenda, and board members learning a little bit more about their colleagues as each person lists their requests…