They’ve got the beat: Team-building drumming workshop a hit

It was a day to set goals. The event: The Annual Leadership Forum for 22 managers at Villa Colombo, a facility that provides residential long-term care and community services to 391 seniors. I was there to watch the group close out the afternoon with a team-building exercise, a plan not dissimilar in structure to most management development seminars. But this particular seminar didn’t involve PowerPoint presentations or your typical trust building exercises.

Wieslawa Stepkowska met me in the foyer. As Villa Colombo’s Director of Support Services and CSO, and organizer of the day, I expect it was she who had said it was alright for me to observe. She led me to a part of the room that had been sectioned off – hidden behind dark curtains. While we walked, she told me she had participated in one of Paul Houle’s Boom! The Power of Rhythm events before, and she had especially wanted her team to have a similar experience. Wieslawa took me behind the curtains and there I saw, neatly arranged in a circle, an array of percussion instruments: I recognized the djembe drums and the cowbells and shakers, but there were ashiko drums, djun djun drums, and plastic, tonal cylinders called “Boom Whackers” as well.

Paul came over in between last-minute arrangements and introduced himself. When he asked whether I wanted to take part, I smiled. While part of me was ready to bang any drum loudly, the other part felt that I wouldn’t do justice to the role of observer. So I opted instead to observe.

It was just as well, because had I been participating, I would have missed the first expressions of tentative surprise and mild bewilderment from the group. I would have missed seeing one of the women walk toward the largest drum and claim it. And I would have missed what came later, too.

Paul established his role as teacher by drumming for them on his own djembe. It was a complicated pattern that quickly transported us to warmer climates, rolling plains, and cloudless skies. Then, at his invitation, the group took up their new-found instruments and began to play.

Their sound was bereft of rhythm, but full of energy. After dividing them into four subgroups, and laying the ground rules of when to start and stop, Paul then led them through some simple patterns. Under his guidance, within a few minutes each subgroup was able to play their assigned part of a four-beat cycle.

The rhythms became more complex as he demanded more from them, coaxed it out of them. All the while, Paul’s soft-spoken encouragement knitted new learning to familiar management principles. They learned that in every pattern, there’s a pulse that keeps everything together. He explained to them: “The beat can change but the pulse stays the same,” reminding them that in organizations all jobs work around the ‘pulse,’ and that all jobs are important, from the smallest shaker to the largest drum. He reinforced to them that: “Listening is key to being on any team.” The group exchanged instruments along the way, trying out new sounds with newer, more complicated rhythms.

Then it happened. Paul provided the kindling, beating a simple pattern that the first person in the circle mimicked. Next he invited each subsequent member to join in and add their own distinctive beat, but with a mandate to preserve the pulse. The result was a confident, fiery rhythm that came alive with its own unique voice and quality, at times booming-loud and then whisper-quiet, transforming each participant from player to artist. They stopped on Paul’s cue, amazed at their own accomplishment. I swear I heard them all say, “Wow!” as they exhaled.

A seasoned performer who has worked in radio, television and film as well as several recordings, Paul Houle established Boom! The Power of Rhythm as a natural evolution of his expertise as a performer, entrepreneur, keynote speaker and facilitator. He is founder and president, starting Boom! in 1999, after hearing more than once that the corporate marketplace had a need for the teambuilding exercises he was using with children. “Using rhythm, I can show teams how to make the workplace more cooperative.”

It’s a goal worth setting in any environment.

For more information about Boom! The Power of Rhythm, visit