Orchestras without a Conductor

We all have seen small ensembles of musicians playing together marvellously without a conductor. But is that possible for orchestras. And what about companies? Does every company need a CEO like every orchestra requires a conductor?

There is a famous orchestra in New York which has never had a conductor – The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Founded in 1972, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has recorded over 70 albums on all major labels. It has toured extensively and one many prizes and awards. Find out more about the unique leadership process the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra works:

The Orpheus Leadership Institute

That might work just fine for playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. The works of these composers do not need 80 to 120 people on stage. So does such a principle of an orchestra without a conductor also work on a bigger scale? It does. Meet the French orchestra Les Dissonaces. Founded in 2004 musicians from all over Europe joined into this new project. Listen to them playing one of the most complex pieces one can imagine: Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring:

Les Dissonances perform Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Well, that might somehow work in music. But how can that be applied to business? First, the examples of the music world show certain team work and leadership qualities we can apply to any other situation as well. One example of a company which “lost” it’s CEO is Semco in Brazil. Ricardo Semler took over the business from his father. And he decided to step aside and radically democratize the company. Here Ricardo Semler talking about the radical transformation he put Semco through:

TED Talk by Ricardo Semler


Here are a few questions for your personal reflection:

  • What would it take to run your company or your team without hierarchical leadership?
  • What steps do you need to take to make your company or your team self-managed?
  • How would you feel yourself giving up your leadership role? What would you miss most? What would you be happy to give up?