Managing a Team The Van Halen Way

The rock band? Seriously? What on earth have they got to do with managing a team. Well, I would have thought the same until I stumbled across an interview with the lead singer David Lee Roth.

Back To The Sounds Of The 70’s

Let’s rewind back to the 1970s. In 1974 Van Halen were formed in Pasadena, California. They were infamous for their live shows and the sound. Some would say obsessive. In addition, the foursome toured the world with a massive lighting system. The 850 par lamp lights were the first time any band had used such a sophisticated rig and with it came problems. The venues were outdated and just not prepared to set up the bands sophisticated light and sound system. The poor venues made do.

Like all bands, before they embark on a tour, they will have published an individual rider (contract) which stipulates exactly what has to be provided at each venue. This involved the overall sound, lighting system but also the type of drinks, food etc that has to be laid on for the band. In Van Halen’s case they had struggled with the poor attempt at managing the light/sound system so set about a “fix” that would go down in rock history and prove to be a sensible strategy in business leadership and managing a team.

Managing The Contract

So, what did they do? They devised a brilliant management plan. In each rider they stipulated that alongside the normal coffee, cigarettes and food that they wanted a bowl of M&Ms…. but with no brown ones. Upon entering the venue, they would check the bowl of M&Ms and on the basis that the venue had read and understood the rider, checked the bowl. If brown M&Ms were found, they demanded a complete re-check of the complete sound/lighting system. Then demand that the promoter would forfeit the entire show at full price. If the promoter couldn’t get something as simple as the M&Ms right…. the chances are the complete sound, stage & lighting rig would be sub-standard. Not good for the paying customer.

Van Halen contract

Courtesy of the Smoking Gun

Managing Your Team

So how does that help you as a leader and managing a team? You can try the Van Halen effect in many ways especially when you are a new leader in your current role or entering a new company. Even if you are managing a team remotely the principles are still the same. Start with something simple but effective. It’s always difficult within your new lead role to identify the right people.  It can literally take you months to assess staff and find out who is actually on the bus or just along for the ride.

Tips For Managing A Team

  • The monthly meeting. Normally each attendee will have to present their numbers on the previous month’s performance. Send out the slides but ensure the % calculator for sales, OTIF or whatever the KPI is incorrect. Let’s see who contacts you or corrects it. More importantly, who doesn’t? The devil is in the detail. Yes, we all make mistakes so put 1or 2 in.
  • Re-publish the expenses guide and stick rigidly to it. If you see expenses not normally allowed highlight and await the storm of protest from the employees who are swinging the proverbial lead. I had a manager who was claiming for his SKY TV (hidden under telephone expense) and thought claiming a bottle of wine for his evening meal in a hotel was standard. He left after being caught at an airport waiting to fly for a weekend away in company time. Then came the complaints from customers. Managing a team will have some conflict.
  • In most instances’ companies provide mobiles for the team you manage but, in some cases, no mobile phone cover. Communicate that a mobile cover must be bought and claimed on expenses. In most cases your team will have a personal mobile which will of course have a state of the art, non shatter proof, bump free cover. Why? They will have to stump up the cost if they drop it. However, most people will not adhere to your request. Why should I?……. it’s not mine. That culture thing again.

Managing A Team Through Change

In all these instances it proves one point and one point only. Who is on the bus and who is along for the ride? It will offer you a great insight into governing your team rather than having to wait 6 months to assess who is who and who is in your circle. Devise your own. But be mindful in very rare circumstances it may just be an oversight of the individual…. but in most cases, it will prove beyond doubt the true team members and steer your skills for managing a team.


  1. Clear, concise and inspiring to the (hopeful!) leaders of the future, like myself. The Van Halen metaphor is a brilliant way of outlining that if you want to be successful in business, the devil is in the detail when it comes to leading and managing a team that achieves. Thoroughly enjoyable read!

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