This series takes a look at how 10 qualities of Rhythm can help make things easier, both personally and for teams at work.

“The One”: Finding Agreement and Unity


“Where’s the One?”

You’ll hear that question sometimes in a drum circle or rhythm jam.  Imagine a group of friends starting to improvise together with drums and hand percussion instruments.  The bass drum sets the beat, and you hear the different pitches and patterns of each drum, with the percussion adding the “spice” on top.


Photo credit: Jerry Sitser

But something doesn’t feel right.  Everyone is playing to the same Pulse, but it doesn’t feel like one song.  It’s more like everyone is doing their own thing, just coincidentally to the same tempo.

Frustrated, someone asks, “Where’s the One?”  In other words, where is the beginning of each person’s sense of Cycle, the “1-2-3-4” count that moves forward in time?  When people have different answers — if one person’s “One” is another person’s “Two” or “Three” — there is usually tension in the music, a sense of pulling apart.  It can feel “hard to hold on” while playing one’s pattern, like being thrown around on a roller coaster.

When all players adjust their sense of “the One” to the same beat in the Cycle, there is a tangible feeling of alignment, of “Oh, I feel it now.”  The individual rhythm patterns fall into place in a collective song.  Now the group is on its way to that juicy, satisfying Entrainment moment!

What’s interesting is that this shift from tension to “settled in” can happen without any change in the patterns that people are actually playing.  Playing the same notes and simply agreeing on where the cycle begins is what leads to feeling truly in sync.

The Unity Point

In other words, “the One” is the inherent unity point when a group plays music together, whether in a rock band, symphony, or drum circle.  In composed music, the One is specified explicitly in the song.  Everyone is literally on the same sheet of music.

unityIn improvised music — like drum circles and jazz bands — the One can be more elusive.  It is a result of what the individuals play, emerging through their agreement and alignment.  It’s an active alignment process, requiring listening and adjustment by all members.  With a common sense of the One, we have an agreed-upon Home Base to launch our own patterns from, and return to with each rhythmic Cycle.

A common “One” is a key step towards group entrainment, when the rhythm locks in and creates its own momentum.  From that solid base, we each can play — even experiment with — our own pattern in the cycle with confidence that the group will stay aligned.  Even if I wobble playing my pattern, I’ll be pulled back in to sync as long as I hear and feel the group’s One coming back around.

What’s Your Personal “One”?

Having a firm sense of “the One” is important in life and work, too.  We’re all trying to make progress towards our goals, and that takes steady, repeated aim and action.  We all get thrown off our “rhythm of progress” from time to time, too — sometimes for a day, sometimes for weeks or months.  When that happens, we can consciously (re)construct the pattern of actions (a.k.a. Habits) that we know works.  By intentionally choosing a key action to be our “One,” we strengthen our commitment to the positive habit, and make it easier to follow through.


Photo credit: CanStockPhoto

For example, I know the pattern of actions that lead me to get stronger and lose weight:  Buy healthy food, track my intake, go to the gym, take my power walk.  If I ask myself which of these is most crucial — which do the others tend to follow if I just get back on board with one thing — I can easily identify my “One” for health and fitness.  It’s my walk, which I faithfully take almost every day.  It not only burns calories, it gets me away from the computer, out in nature, feeling good about moving in my body, and into a creative mindset where all kinds of answers about my life fall into place.  Walking is the quickest way to make me feel better, which helps me follow through with those other healthy choices.

Creating Your Team “One”

Progress is easier when work teams have a shared sense of “the One,” too.  In a busy workplace filled with multiple projects and constant change, it’s all too easy to get disconnected from one’s teammates, functioning in transactional, rather than human, relationships.  That creates a breeding ground for all kinds of ills and drama: self-doubt, suspicion, martyr-heroics, burnout, and the like.


Photo credit: CanStockPhoto

Instead, create periodic “touch points” of aligned attention and work flow to give natural recognition to progress, and to reassure group members that they’re united and on track.  Here are some ways to create a sense of “the One” with your team:

  • Hold stand-up huddles at planned intervals
  • Create project milestones with due dates and recognition
  • Regularly broadcast team news and key workflow indicators
  • Connect in periodic staff and project meetings (that is, well-run meetings that everyone looks forward to, not the other kind! 😉 )

These are all standard management fare, I know.  The difference is in the intention for these meeting points, and therefore how they are conducted.  Go beyond task coordination, and spend some time on people’s emotional connections — to the goals and to each other.  When treated as the “One” of a team’s rhythmic cycle, these touch points celebrate progress, surface new understanding, disarm worry with collaboration, affirm the team’s sense of “Why”, and launch the promise of the next work cycle.

Leadership When “the One” Gets Lost

Of course, there are times when it’s not easy to keep your sense of “the One.”  At work, unexpected events or a big change can send everyone grasping for their own stable rhythm.  This can happen in a drum circle, too, for example when there’s a distraction in the room, or someone plays out-of-sync on a loud instrument.  In either case, the sense of “group song” starts to come unraveled.

Whether in a drum circle or at work, the quickest way back to group cohesion is to regain your own rhythm and sense of “the One,” and then voice it in a way that helps the rest of the team realign and reconnect.  Or, find someone who has regained theirs, and align with and amplify that “new One” with your actions.  Irrespective of official role or rank (there are none in a drum circle), these are pivotal acts of leadership.  When listening and caring are encouraged, the group will eventually coalesce with a new sense of “the One.”  And its new direction — whether musical, strategic, or tactical — will emerge and clarify.

Experience the Rhythm of Unity by tuning into”the One.” 

Next up in Rhythm Tools for Life: MELODY

← Read the previous post: ENTRAINMENT