Rhythm and Music as a Tool for Effective Collaboration with Doug Manuel

May 28, 2024

Rhythm and music are primal forces that can elevate awareness of both ourselves and others. But they can do more than just that… music and rhythm can be used to enhance collaboration and connectivity within teams. 


Doug Manuel, an inspiring documentarian and rhythm enthusiast, shares his journey and the incredible ways he has used drumming to transform professional connections.


He is a distinguished percussionist and master of the djembe drum, known for his ability to bring people together through rhythm. Doug emphasizes the unique significance of the Djembe, a drum that transcends mere percussion to foster unity among individuals.


In my recent conversation with Doug on The Enlightened Executive, we explored what we can learn from music and communal living, particularly in rural African communities, to enhance leadership skills and organizational culture.


Role of Rhythm and Music in Leadership


Doug emphasized that rhythm and music are more than just beats and melodies—they are primal tools that bring us back to ourselves.


By tuning into the rhythms, we can heighten our awareness of the signals we send out and the impact of our vibrations on those around us.


Imagine starting a company meeting with a few minutes of uplifting music. Not only does this set a positive tone, but it also helps create a common heartbeat within the team, encouraging everyone to sync up and work in harmony.


  • Action Item: Incorporate a ‘musical check-in’ at the beginning of your meetings. Play a tune that resonates with your team’s vibe to foster a sense of unity and positive energy.


Learning from Diverse Communities


Doug’s experiences in rural Africa profoundly shaped his understanding of true community and collaboration. In these villages, people live communally, prioritizing shared purpose and selfless service over individual gain. Such environments naturally cultivate trust and deep connections.


Contrast this with the superficial connections many of us experience on social media. It’s no wonder that the younger generations, especially Gen Z, often feel isolated and unhappy: they lack authentic community experiences.


  • Action Tip: Foster a culture where people come together for a shared purpose.  What is the greater mission your team or organization is trying to fulfill – what’s the why behind your work? Organize team-building activities that emphasize collaboration and community, rather than competition.


Breaking Silos with Drumming


Doug’s journey with the West African drum, or djembe, brought him closer to his community and taught him the importance of active listening.


He began hosting drumming workshops in various settings, from schools to high-security prisons, to demonstrate the power of rhythm in breaking down silos and promoting cooperation.


Doug firmly believes that rhythm can infuse life into organizations. It’s not just about the sound; it’s about the energy and vibrancy it brings. When people engage rhythmically, they transcend their usual roles and connect on a deeper level.


  • Tip: Hire a percussionist to lead a drumming session at your next team offsite for a unique activity that you’ve not likely tried before. Such sessions naturally lead to better eye contact, active listening, and an improved sense of connection. Use it as an opportunity to break down barriers and foster genuine human connections.


Finding Purpose Beyond Ourselves


Doug shared how crucial it is for leaders to find a personal mission that goes beyond themselves. By doing so, you create a top-down culture shift within your organization, which allows you to focus on others’ happiness, rather than just your own. This kind of purposeful leadership can inspire entire teams and create a nurturing, supportive environment.


An example Doug shared was how the African communities don’t just cook for themselves. They cook for others in the community anytime they are making something, which then brings a whole new purpose and meaning behind cooking.


The collaborative spirit and mutual support prevalent in African communities offer numerous benefits that enhance individual well-being and societal resilience. Here are some key advantages: enhanced resilience, social cohesion, educational opportunities, and environmental sustainability.


As leaders, we need to create space, practice deep listening, and connect with the essence of those we lead. This means being present, slowing down if we want to foster true collaboration.


  • Action Item: Dedicate time each week to focus on personal connections within your team. Whether through one-on-one check-ins or communal activities, try to understand what matters (struggles and wins) to the individuals you lead.


In essence, music and rhythm can be incredible tools for leadership and collaboration. They remind us of the importance of genuine human connections, selfless service, and the power of community.


Doug Manuel also shares…

  • The transformative power of rhythm in creating focus and collaboration in virtual spaces and diverse communities.
  • His profound experience running workshops for unique groups.
  • Insights on leading with authenticity and the significance of deep listening in leadership.


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