The 6 Things Everyone Should Know About Facilitating With Acoustics

In the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) we use acoustics to facilitate work during collaborative sessions. I recently read an article on Buffer about how music affects and benefits the brain, I have used some of their insights here and shared my thoughts about how music and acoustics can be used to support collaborative work.
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Our perception of ‘neutral’ is effected by music

When a group meets each other for the first time there are lots of factors that affect how that group will work together for the day one of those is mood. Mood can have a profound impact on relationships within a group, the reasons for a  negative mood are almost limitless, bad traffic, an argument, poor weather, having to do other work before arriving.  This same negativity will effect their first impression of others they meet, for potentially the first time.

By playing positive music upon arrival we can attempt to mitigate the risk that mood can put on an event. Participants are more likely to see each other in a postive light with the presence of positive music. This will then enable them to form better relationships at the start of a meeting or collaborative session and work better throughout. Where we might usually perceive someone as being neutral, happy or sad music will cause us to view them differently.

Ambient noise can improve creativity, whilst, familiar music can significantly distract us

Whilst ambient noise can fill a background void that is itself distracting, people often become lost in their thoughts whilst sitting in a coffee shop with the hustle and bustle of conversations, cups clinking, the hum of machines amongst a multitude of other noises. This ambient noise creates distractions that make it a little difficult to focus on something, not too difficult mind, which “promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity”. According to research ambient noise needs to be at just the right volume too, too quiet and we wont be challenged enough to seek out the abstract, too loud and we narrow our thinking as we become overwhelmed.

Familiar music will cause us to become distracted from the task at hand regardless of the volume. The music triggers our brain to follow a new train of thought related to the music itself, it might be an emotion or a memory or just the song itself. We dont have the same triggers present for unfamiliar music so it doesnt affect us in the same way, in fact this acts in a similar way to ambient noise.

This knowledge can be used in a number of ways in a collaborative session to facilitate the work…

  • By separating different groups using distance or physical partitions you can change the amount of noise bleed between groups. Find the right level of noise bleed and you create an ambient background noise using the participants in the room.
  • By playing unfamiliar music at the right volume you can mitigate the moment at the start of any conversation where noone is willing to be the first person to talk because background noise makes akward silences less awkward. If you want less creativity and more focus then play the music louder as this will drown out other distractions in the room an enable individuals to focus on their work. Remember that it is a collaborative session and people still need to communicate, too loud and this becomes difficult.
  • By playing familiar music that is easily recognisable we can instantly distract people form their current thought patterns and get their attention. By doing this we can eaily get the attention of everyone in the room and direct them to what they need to be doing next.

Music helps us exercise

Research on the effects of music during exercise has been going on for years. Apparently listening to music does two things…

  1. Increases motivation
  2. Drowns out fatigue

This is critical to the running of any collaborative session, if you want to get the most out of any session you run then you want your participants fully motivated and working as long as you can without them tiring. Much like physical exercise, conversations can be extremely tiring and music has a similar effect when applied to mental exertion.

On top of this we can use music to regulate participant work rate throughout a session. The faster tempo (beats per minute) of a piece of music, the faster you see participants talking, writing and working in general. Obviously this has a limit, according to recent exercise ressearch after 145 bpm there is little motivation gain. This needs to be managed carefully or else you will overwork the participant group too soon and they will become less  productive.

So, in conclusion the 6 things everyone should know about using acoustics to facilitate work are…

  1. Ensure you start any session with positive music to ensure participants form positive relationships
  2. Position groups to create a good level of ambient noise in the room for all participants
  3. When participants are working play unfamiliar music
  4. Choose the music to gradually increase in tempo to encourage faster working throughout the session
  5. Choose music carefully to maintain energy levels throughout the session
  6. Use familiar music to get participants’ attention and distract them from work
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