“Drum Circles capture the cadence of the new economy
while shaking up traditional notions about team-building.”
– M. Kathleen Pratt,

If you’ve attended a team building retreat in the past ten years, you’ve probably experienced the benefits of the popular “ropes course.” With its characteristic features; challenge by choice, low and high elements, and trust games, ropes courses have been a standard in corporate teambuilding. But if you’ve been there and done that, what happens next? Is the ropes course paradigm still meeting the needs of today’s corporate clients, or do we need other options?

We live in an era of innovation and creativity, two primary aspects necessary for survival in the post-millennium economy. “Challenge” is being redefined beyond simply rising to a difficult task. Constantly creating and re-assessing a corporate and personal vision and discovering new e-commerce paradigms are among today’s challenges. And if you aren’t part of an employee’s personal and professional growth and happiness, they’ll leave or even worse, they’ll burn out.

What is this thing called the drum circle? Who is using this new leadership and teambuilding strategy and for what purpose? How does the drum circle paradigm meet the demands of today’s new leadership teams and corporate culture needs?

Similar to the ropes course, the drum circle is facilitated by trained professionals who are adept at not only leading the music and group activities but also in debriefing and processing the experience in a way that is useful for the client. Metaphors are processed and applied to corporate culture following the rhythmical activities.

But there are key differences.

Traditional ropes courses have been defined by three major elements. First is an established goal that drives a group’s performance and provides a tool for evaluation. Secondly are the limited resources that surround the group’s specific challenge; whether a time constraint, the amount of materials, or a number of people. This is meant to simulate the stress of daily tasks. Thirdly, there are established rules to obey, which are set by the facilitator.

In contrast, the drum circle has very different defining elements. First, the goal is constantly evolving according to the unique contributions of the players. Secondly, the group discovers its unlimited resources; internal and external, through the process of being supported in their creative expression. Thirdly, rules are created in the moment by the team, according to the discovery of what’s needed to reach their highest potential.

Apple Computer, Hallmark, AOL/Time Warner, Hewlett Packard, EMD, Dupont, and Sony are part of a growing list of corporations turning to drum circles to assist in team building strategies that fit the new corporate era. Guy Baker, the founder of Catalyst Event Management, based in London with satellite offices in USA and Australia, has been successfully using drumming events for corporations for over six years. According to Baker, “In the ropes courses, there are a few people at risk up on the ropes with the rest of the team standing on the ground yelling encouragement. But in a drum circle, everyone is at risk together, creating the rhythmic music. They all succeed or fail together. We are bridging the technology of ropes courses into the arts, which present a deeper, more effective and social challenge to teams.”

Perhaps the drum circle is a modern day embodiment of the philosophies that are being devoured by today’s successful creative leadership. According to Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, “we need to develop new approaches – not management but encouragement, not control but genesis. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created.”

At Internet World, 2001, a drum circle at the annual VIC party (Venice Interactive Community) erupted into a cathartic experience in self-expression, stress reduction, and community building for the Dotcom industry executives who had survived a difficult economic year. According to Brad Nye, “the drum circle helped inspire a downbeat technology community to feel the power of rhythm and professional connection through our drumming.” The event was featured on as a demonstration of the power of collaborative creativity and a much-needed morale building experience.

Perhaps there is a modern-day application of the wisdom of the ancients who practiced drum circles in order to strengthen the tribe, develop their creativity, connect to spirituality, and inspire and honor their gifts. And perhaps this modern day application has a place in a corporate culture where tribal change is frequent and challenging. The drum circle certainly has all the makings to be the next rope’s course.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA, holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is the author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq.