The steady drizzle outside our car windows didn’t dampen our spirits. We were going to meet the co-founders of Zen Illuminate, a product start-up. It promised to be a stimulating discussion.

Without much ado, Nishant, Surbhi and Shyam, the founding team, took us through their “problem statement”. They wanted to explore if our consulting firm, Transformatrix LLP, could assist them as they transitioned into the next phase of their startup. They believed they had a great product. But now on the threshold of revealing it to the world, the questions confronting them as individuals and as a team had become large. Surbhi, one of the core architects of the product, was becoming increasingly withdrawn. She did not feel “up to it”, as she put it. The team itself was beginning to have conflicting views on scaling up in terms of strategy, pace and execution. Shyam especially felt the heat of being the quasi Finance, Admin, Legal and “anything-that-doesn’t-belong-anywhere-else” head.

The skeletal organisation they had built was under tremendous pressure and told the co-founders: “There’s lots of horse power - unfortunately, each horse is pulling us in a different direction”. The team was also feeling a little discouraged after a couple of pitches made to potential investors failed.

This was not the first time we had come across such problems with a leadership team. At Transformatrix, we had developed a map (we called it the Transformative Alignment Map) of what might be ailing such “unhappy” organisations as well as a pathway to harmony. Our framework was derived from Carnatic music and based on the idea of “integration and wholeness” present in the world of music. It came about as we researched how we could apply the principles of alignment in Carnatic music to a firm. How could individuals work together, to paraphrase Kahlil Gibran, like the strings of a lute that quiver with the same music?

After much inquiry, we discovered that the principles of “transformative alignment” that underlie the musical arrangement in Carnatic music can indeed be applied to human beings and to organisations. The TAM ©framework we developed adopts the constructs of “ shruti (pitch)”, “ layam (rhythm)”and “ bhaavam (melodic evocation)” to yield “resonance”, “coherence” and “delight” respectively. The absence of these in human systems implies dissonance, incoherence and dissatisfaction, leading to toxic and corrosive environments.

Resonance – an experience of Shruti In any Indian classical music performance, the first thing the vocalist does is align their voice to a suitable reference point – often, the standard drone of a taanpura. This becomes the base for the emergence of melody. Resonant alignment leads to melodious music and dissonance leads to “noise”.

At the level of an individual in a system, resonance is experienced when a person’s sense of self (the drone/pitch) and the role requirements (equivalent to the voice / instrument) are in alignment. The absence of such alignment could lead to pernicious dissonance in organisational life – mostly manifesting as absenteeism, voluntary turnover, and disengagement.

When we used the TAM assessment suite on Surbhi, we discovered her role required her to be a “warrior crusader” and “strategist” while in her self-map these two symbolic identities were at the bottom. With awareness and some coaching, she was able to enliven these identities (learn some new swara combinations, so to say), and begin closing the gap with her role.

Coherence – an experience of Layam Central to the idea of Indian music is the concept of “ layam ”or rhythm, which offers a steady pattern to which the flowing music adheres. Layam manifests when musicians keep taal by clapping their hands in a certain rhythmic pattern while presenting music. If the taal is not correct, the fine balance required for gripping music will be lost, resulting in a discordant experience.

Inside a workplace, layam is the alignment of multiple roles with the core purpose of the system. If the roles and the system’s purpose are in alignment, there is coherence resulting in a high-capability organisation. If not, then the manifest phenomena could be missed targets, structural incongruities, in-fighting, and such.

At Zen Illuminate, when the three founders and their next level team did an assessment of how they were playing their roles (going with the flow) versus what was required of them (autonomy and initiative), the taal was clearly out of beat. The team is now engaged in an exercise of confronting its their fears, and taking the next step.

Delight – an experience of Bhaavam The creation and expression of music is directed towards evoking delight, whether in the form of artistic/spiritual unfolding for the artiste or in providing wholesome joy to the listener. A key question often asked by a musician is –what “ bhaavam ” or emotional states did my music evoke and foster? Bhaavam cannot be created without the resonant shruti and coherent layam .

In work system terms, it’s about stakeholder delight. Is the investor happy, is the customer delighted, is the vendor feeling valued, is the regulator satisfied, is the citizen appreciative? When the system is strategically aligned with the needs of the larger external context, a musically equivalent experience of “ sadbhaavam ”(positive bhaavam ) is created. Otherwise, there is dissatisfaction, manifested in dipping customer satisfaction score, uneasy investors and so on.

Right now, the founders of Zen Illuminate are discovering the expectations of the investors and see what needs to change for sadbhaavam to emerge.

(The authors are partners at Transformatrix, an organisational development consultancy. The article is based on their experience. The company named here only illustrates the case and does not exist.)