October 2014

Be a Space Maker



If you are going to energize and engage your team, you have to make space for them to contribute. You have to be a space maker.

Too many leaders take up too much space. Too much leadership literature is too filled with ‘to dos’ that take up too much space.

This article will help you imagine how to make space where your whole team can be energized and engaged in achieving their purpose.

The Jazzthink image, so beautifully painted by Colin Righton back in 2002, can help us imagine that alternative. In its centre, there is space. Colin filled that space with brush strokes and colours that speak to me of an energy that is teeming with possibilities and he surrounded that space with musicians that are fully engaged by that energy.

The leader of this group could be any one of the four musicians. Let’s assume it’s the sax player. He has four key responsibilities in making the performance happen in this space. So do you.


  • Creating the space
  • Inviting the right people into the space
  • Sharing the space
  • Appreciating what happened in the space
  1. Create/find the space to serve the purpose. When the Jazzthink Trio plays at a gig, Cory Weeds is the leader. He finds out from me the details about where, when, and with whom. He ensures that that the space is appropriate for the trio – layout, power sources, need for amplification, etc. His concern is that the space will allow all members of the trio to perform to their max, then possibly play above that. The space must be conducive to great jazz. In the workplace, that translates into great conversation. How are you creating/finding the space where people can coalesce around the purpose for which they perform?

  2. Invite the right people into the space. Jazzthink normally works with the guys in the picture below. Cory is on sax, Bill Weeds (his Dad) is on guitar, and Jon Bentley is on bass. Cory has chosen this group for a particular purpose that is aligned to their particular talents. This is a group that is responsible, in a Jazzthink gig, for illustrating the elements of SMARTer Conversations [link to SMARTer Conversations page on the website]. They can not only play cool jazz, but they can also reflect on their practice in ways that help the audience get the connections between jazz and conversations in their workplace. What kind of invitation can you imagine crafting to invite the right people into the space to serve the purpose?



  3. Get them started, the shares the space with them. Every person in the group is given his (or her) own space to contribute their unique talents and ideas about how best to achieve the purpose/interpret the melody. Once they have been counted in, they step forward to solo or step back to support. It really is a collective effort to draw on, add to, and change the energy at the centre of the group process. If one person takes up all the space, the collaborative creativity is diminished or destroyed. It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure that dynamic in that space continues throughout the performance. What will you do to ensure there is space for everyone to contribute their best, then contribute even better?

  4. Bring the endeavor to a conclusion and show appreciation for the purpose served in the space. Depending on the groove that is happening in the space, leaders of jazz groups will let the playing continue or bring it to a close. Sometimes, the context demands tight time restraints on tunes. Other times, there is a lot more space for lengthy explorations of possibilities. A lot depends on the contract with the audience. Some have tight time lines, like most Jazzthink gigs. Others create far more space to explore and experiment with possibilities, like coaching or consulting or ongoing projects in the workplace. Whatever the context, the leader knows how to manage the space best for the purpose being served. What kind of appreciation would inspire you to contribute more better to the purpose you are serving with your team?

Here are some more questions to consider and play with this month that will help you pay better attention to the quality of the space in which your team works:

  • As one who has input and influence into the dynamics that take place in your team, how will you manage the space in which you work?
  • How will you create/find a space conducive to your purpose?
  • How will you invite people to share it with you?
  • How will you initiate the conversations that will fill the space with positive energy?
  • And how will you integrate the efforts into a satisfactory conclusion that pleases the audience?

If you get an inkling that Jazzthink can help you personally with coaching or organizationally with a keynote or a master class with making this kind of space, get in touch with me at fraser@jazzthink.com to explore the possibilities further.

Provocatively,

Brian