Reframing and the human coordination show

posted by
Alexander Laing

Principal Clarinet
Phoenix Symphony

I make my living working for an organization that is used as a metaphor in business writing all the time – the symphony orchestra. Most of the time the orchestra metaphor is used as an example of a high functioning team made up of specialists in pursuit of excellence.

Sometimes it is pointed to as an example of the limits of hyper specialization and silos (because, for instance, the timpanist cannot offer much to the cellist in terms of solving playing problems and vice versa).

Today the metaphor is a little out of fashion and, as more than one observer has wryly noted, as a metaphor for organizations it is probably most enjoyed by those who see themselves as conductors of organizations. Nonetheless, as it relates to organizations I am pretty confident that the metaphor of the symphony orchestra will persist.



Because the show – the performance work that an orchestra does – is a pretty amazing feat of human coordination. It’s a stage full of people, putting years of training and practice on display in a complex and often dazzling dance of sound over time – all in order to tell a story together.


It really is, as I sometimes call it, ‘the human coordination show’. But behind the human coordination show of an orchestra are real organizations with all the challenges of complexity and human fumbling that any organization faces. Sometimes these organizations are high functioning, sometimes they are not.  

Fear not, nonprofit professionals!

posted by Aaron Stiner,
Senior Program Manager,
Paths of HOPE, Catholic Charities

I am at one of the most intense, rewarding, and sometimes frightening times in my nonprofit career. And I don't think I'm alone.

As Senior Program Manager of Paths of HOPE at Catholic Charities, I am preparing to lead my team and a group of cross-functional, internal stakeholders, along with our CEO and Senior Management, through a two-day program planning session. With our CEO's support, this is my team's best opportunity to gain commitment from stakeholders on resourcing and supporting our program's priorities.

I'm a new leader, managing a young program with high expectations. It's fantastic work – very intense and rewarding. But it can be scary at times – looking at a mountain of work, thinking there has to be a better way to manage – because if we don't, we can't improve lives. No pressure there, ha!

As Board President of YNPN Phoenix, I often hear from other emerging nonprofit leaders – including our board – a shared desire to perform with high standards in the face of huge workloads, while at the same time wanting life/work balance. We love our commitments, but it can sometimes be a challenge to hold it all together!

But fear not, nonprofit professionals! There are ways to work through even the toughest times that don't always need to include escaping to an undisclosed tropical location and leaving your smart phone at home with your cat.

Facing a challenging situation at work? Access resources! The ASU Lodestar Center, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, YNPN Phoenix, my fellow MNpS graduates, my coworkers, boss, friends, and professional mentors are all resources I access to get me unstuck on my quest to improve the common good.