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Nov 8, 2017 in Informative

Rotating Leaders: Orpheus Orchestra


Orpheus Orchestra is a phenomenon not only in the field of music but also in the field of management that determines relationship within an organization. Orpheus Orchestra was established by Julian Fifer in 1972. This classical music chamber orchestra is Grammy-Award winning. Yet, Orpheus is known not only for music performances. Many businesses have observed leadership and leader rotation at Orpheus with the aim to explore band’s leadership practice and its possible application in their firms.

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Of course, business organizations have observed not only the creative performance of the orchestra. Orpheus has several characteristics that distinguish it from other orchestras. There is no conductor in the band, but there is a high level of self-government within its different core groups.

Most organizations mainly use authoritarian leadership style to manage internal relationships between members at different levels. Orpheus Orchestra is the most popular orchestra in the world, and its organization of the work process contradicts many stereotypes of management. That is why some heads of organizations confided that they do not want their staff to know about Orpheus.

Orpheus Orchestra in Kraft Foods and Novartis AG

Nevertheless, big companies such as Kraft Foods and Novartis AG, hired Orpheus to show its organization to their heads. These companies were interested in learning about Orpheus’ democratic leadership model. Such companies were able to use the democratic model of leadership to improve their performance by studying organizational and leadership model of the orchestra. While analyzing democratic leadership model, Kraft Foods and Novartis AG identified several advantages associated with division and delegation of authority. Advantages relate to the improvement of functions of the organization, orientation on the needs of the highest order, collegiality in development and decision-making, shared responsibility for the achievements of the organization, development of staff contacts, high degree of awareness among staff about the status of the organization combined with the demands of justice and benevolence, and trustful relationships with employees increase their creativity and motivation.

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The work of a concertmaster is another aspect that distinguishes Orpheus from other orchestras. In Orpheus, concertmasters control the work during rehearsals, mediate debate among members, help them find solutions to their problems, and make discussion more productive. This way of organizing work when concertmaster position rotates among core-group members has certain advantages. The logic of the rotation method is in alleviating pressure and allowing each member to lead others. It also allows to shape personalities of members, develop leadership skills, and give chance to be supportive. It makes it possible to develop all members of the orchestra individually, and in this way benefit the orchestra as a whole.

Permanent leadership control system is common but not in such a unique team like Orpheus. There is no permanent leadership in the structure of Orpheus. Even small groups that constantly change its composition cannot be named permanent leader. Positions, such as conductor and concertmaster, were eliminated despite their consistency in work. Collective participation of all members of the orchestra in decision-making has become a substitute for permanent leadership. Collective solidarity, mutual support, and clear goals are mediated substitutes of permanent leadership. Such substitutes provide a large number of options for development of the team in comparison with a system where there is a permanent leader. It should be noted that substituting permanent leadership in a team where there is a very strong leader is a rather complicated task.


This system that is illustrated by the example of Orpheus Orchestra certainly has a number of advantages over other systems, and this is confirmed by many years of creative activities and numerous awards including Grammy. But this system will not work in all organizations. Achieving high level of mutual-help, mutual support, and ensuring clarity of goals cannot be achieved by each structure. Unfortunately, not every organization is oriented on the needs of the highest order. Moreover, such management system is not suitable for sport teams where the coach as a leader cannot be replaced. Therefore, when choosing the structure of the organization both management systems need to be considered.

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