Drumming has been used for centuries to send messages, create bonds and promote unity within groups. It has also been found to reduce stress and to “tune” human biology in positive, life-affirming ways.
Now its therapeutic benefits are being channelled in a new direction – to improve motivation and communication in the workplace, to wow delegates at conferences and company gatherings and as unusual way of encouraging employees to let off steam after a gruelling meeting or an intensely busy period at work.
Drum Cafe is one of the oldest providers of corporate drumming workshops. It was formed in South Africa over 20 years ago by Warren Lieberman and Brett Schlesinger as part of an interactive experience at a music venue there. They were subsequently approached by a number of companies that wanted private sessions for their employees. That has since evolved into an international business that has run more than 50,000 events in 65 countries.
“We’ve worked with every kind of company and with numbers from 10 to 6,000,” Schlesinger says. “Drumming can be a terrific ice breaker, a great energiser and an easy way of connecting people. No skills are needed and I think what surprises people is just how quickly a group can get into a rhythm together and make a really big impact.”
Drum Cafe's client list reads like a roll call of blue chips, and includes Microsoft, Dell, BMW, Shell and Unilever. The company has been to Ireland more than 20 times.
Schlesinger says drumming creates a real buzz among jaded audiences that have heard one too many motivational speakers and eaten one too many canapés at big corporate events over the years.
“It’s really interesting to see people’s reactions when they come into the room and see the drums on their seats,” he says. “Yes, it takes them out of their comfort zone and they are a bit apprehensive at first. But they are also attracted by the novelty and the fun element. And when you get them going, the feeling in the room can be absolutely electric. I can tell you, when that happens, it’s an event or a conference they won’t forget in a hurry.”
While the drumming is fun, Schlesinger says it can have a serious purpose allied to corporate objectives such as improving relationships within teams, closing the gap between management and employees, breaking down barriers and helping employees to embrace change or to understand how a new skill or process is learned.
He also says his company has seen a shift in mindset in the 10 years since the financial crash, with companies now really keen to engage their employees.
“Companies have become more concerned about making people feel part of the organisation and part of the team and making that meaningful. They want people to feel better about working there,” he says. “They use us to help get that message across, whether that’s in a quick session that lasts 20 minutes or one that goes on for a few hours. The energy levels it generates are high, very similar to something like paintball, in fact.”
Schlesinger points out that, when someone is drumming, they can’t be doing anything else – an unusual experience for many these days with always-on technology.
“The number one enemy of a conference or corporate event is the mobile phone,” he says. “People are constantly looking down, and getting their full attention is really difficult. But you need two hands for drumming so for that period they are in a technology-free zone, which is surprisingly positive.
“One of the comments we hear over and over is how alive and connected they felt [in a human as opposed to a technological way] to themselves and to other people after a drumming experience.”
Tania Lancaster, UKI strategy employee engagement lead at Accenture, says her organisation used drumming recently to mark the start of a new financial year and the launch of a new strategy.
“The room would have been made up of about 250 people, from analysts through to senior managing directors,” she says. “The day had been pretty full-on, and I was looking for something to finish it off on a high and get people feeling they were energised to deliver our new strategy and were part of a team/family.
“The three guys who came along [from Drum Cafe] were amazing. We only had a 25-minute slot but they still managed to work their magic. Everyone had a brilliant time and there was great camaraderie after it. People said they felt really energised to undertake the work ahead. It also humanised us, I think.”
Neil Dowling of Dublin-based Drum Nature (which teaches African drumming) runs corporate sessions mainly around team-building objectives. "I've led groups from five or six up to over 100 and companies have largely used us to reinforce training or messages they wanted to get across to help promote a collective vision," Dowling says.
“Rhythm connects both sides of the brain and drumming is very participative and satisfying and people work together to create something that is much bigger than the sum of the parts.”
Drum sessions are typically priced according to group size, and all equipment is provided. Open-air drumming, which brings an added dimension, is possible but can be rather tricky in the Irish climate, as the drums don’t like to get wet.