Toronto Star : Business heeds the beat ; Corporations seek inspiration from the primal rhythm of the drum circle

Take hold of the drum, join the circle, listen to the pulse and bang away.

Welcome to the new corporate world.

The drum is one of the newest instruments being used to promote communication and teamwork in the workplace. Yet there's no tool that awakens a more primal instinct.

Bringing the philosophies of African drumming to the jungles of the business world is the idea of Toronto-born Doug Sole, 35.

Companies such as IBM Canada Ltd., Scotiabank and Xerox Canada Ltd. have invited him to lead employees through two-hour drum sessions to improve communication and listening skills.

On the doorstep of the 21st century, big business, in its quest for higher productivity, is turning to a technology almost as primitive as a caveman beating on his chest.

More than 100 casually dressed business people, most first-time drummers, pour into the auditorium at Georgian College's Kempenfelt Conference Centre, just outside Barrie. With drums of all types - Latin American congas, African doumbeks and Brazilian surdos - lining the room, they anxiously take their seats.

Sole, drum aficionado, author and co-owner of Toronto's Soul Drums, takes his place at the centre of the drum circle. Unlike the business professionals who surround him, he arrives in a wildly patterned shirt, dressing the part.

Don't touch the drums, we're told. Everybody is eager, edgy. We ask ourselves: What if I make a fool of myself? What if I fail?

"People come in the room and see all these instruments and think: What's this got to do with our company? Or, I don't have any rhythm; I'm not going to sit down and do this," Sole tells the group. That's fear and ego standing in the way, he says, and it hurts the performance of a drum circle the way it would hurt any corporation.

He encountered little resistance at the Kempenfelt Centre last week, where he helped kick off a four-day retreat held by members of the Secretan Centre's Higher Ground Community, in Alton, south of Orangeville. It's a movement of educators, lawyers and executives who seek to awaken the spirit at work.

Founder Lance Secretan, 59, the author of nine books, says he has dedicated his life to corporate healing. Having discovered Sole's work last year, Secretan has been eager to integrate drumming into his retreat, which also includes song, dance and meditation.

"Most people will go home and forget 80 per cent of the things that have happened here, but they won't forget the drumming," says Secretan, who lectures to 200,000 people each year.

Sue Anderson, director of internal communications at Xerox Canada, has organized two such sessions with Sole.

"Doing something like this in a large corporate environment is a risk," she says. "You don't know how anybody in that room is going to react.

"But for us it's about getting into a new kind of rhythm, a rhythm that allows you to reach new kinds of heights."

Sole, who studied music at Humber College, is a lifelong drummer. He warns that, by the end of the night, we won't be able to stop.

But first, it's time to warm up. We're instructed to pick up a drum stick and "boomwhacker" - a resonant hollow tube. Sole strikes a beat and asks the group to imitate it. We do so. He strikes another and another. So far, so good.

Next, participants are divided into eight groups, each playing a different beat. When all the beats are combined, we suddenly find ourselves working in harmony to create a stirring symphony of sound. This shows that "everybody's job and everybody's voice is important in corporations, but sometimes corporations don't think that way," Sole explains.

Now that we've learned the language, we're ready for the drums, Sole says. I pull the 25-centimetre djembe drum gently toward me, cradle it against my chest and tighten the straps around my back.

I can't hold off much longer.

"There's more than 100 of us in this room," Sole warns. "If we all start banging our own thing, it's going to be chaos." The same goes for companies, he says.

He randomly points to drummers around the room, singling them out to play a beat for everyone to imitate. Sometimes we're successful, sometimes not.

Finally, Sole points to a woman who has the deepest drum. She begins simply: Boom. Boom. Boom.

Another person joins, then another. A few more join, but then the rhythm falls apart, the hypnotic beat replaced by cacophony.

"We're having a communication problem here," Sole interrupts. "You've got to listen to one another through the pulse of the business. Don't just play what the pulse is. You have to play your job description, but be creative around it."

We begin again.

One by one, drummers add to the pulse. We listen carefully, imitate, improvise, and allow our creativity to flow. Sole leads us outside into the night.

Standing on the grass, we continue to drum, the crescent moon barely illuminating the waters of Kempenfelt Bay. Nothing can wipe our smiles away as we push the limits of our new-found talent.

Beating with ever-increasing energy, we have drawn toward the heart of the circle, closer together.

A grinning Secretan steps beside me and, over the booming percussion, says: "It's just another day in corporate North America."

Caption: BILL SANDFORD FOR THE TORONTO STAR / BEAT MASTER: Drum circle leader Doug Sole lines out a rhythm with a drumstick and boomwhacker. Listening and harmonizing skills essential to drumming are equally important in business, says Sole.; BILL SANDFORD FOR THE TORONTO STAR / GOT RHYTHM: Grinning first-time drummers concentrate as they work on improvising skills.