Harvard Thesis about Tjofl÷jters

by Dr J Thor


An essay for the course "Management in Public Health in Industrialized Countries", HPM221ab, exploring the organizational strategy of an organization well known to the author.

  • Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA October 1994
  • Course instructor: Professor Marc J. Roberts
  • Teaching fellow: Daniel F. Baranowski
  • Author: Johan Thor, M.D.


    1. Introduction

    Tjoflojters is a six-man a cappella singing group that performs humorous improvizations on traditional popular Swedish songs. Its members perform wearing hats, trench coats, black shoes, and no pants. Rooted in a shared sense of humor, built on complementary skills and personalities among its members, and strengthened by the evolution of "Tjafsology", its own method for crafting both strategy and new musical pieces, Tjoflojters has thrived and attracted diverse and enthusiastic audiences for fifteen years.

    What is Tjoflojters?

    Tjoflojters was launched by a handful of friends, including the author, at a summer youth camp, in the Stockholm archipelago. (See Exhibit 1). The initial motivation was simply to have fun and to cultivate the members' musical skills, but over the years it evolved into an enduring musical enterprise that has performed regularly and brought in considerable revenues.

    The organization is non-profit but market driven, in that all revenues arise from services offered on the free market. Most revenues have come from performing at dinner parties, most profitable among them corporate parties in the mid-1980s before the recession. (Tjoflojters noticed a sharp decline in demand as the recession swept across Sweden. So, in this sense, the Swedish -- or maybe even the global -- economy at large constitutes part of the relevant external environment).

    Competition consists of other entertainers and singing groups, of which there are several, all with varying styles, but few or none with Tjoflojters' particular way of performing. In a larger sense, competition also consists of the many different ways in which clients could spend money to treat friends, employees or customers. Internally, Tjoflojters has never had a very clear appreciation of what exactly the competition has been, since the group has rarely needed to market itself against competing performers. Instead, Tjoflojters has mainly been introduced to prospective clients by word of mouth, or hired by people who have seen a performance themselves. When performing publicly, in theaters or bars for example, Tjoflojters has advertised almost exclusively to an extended community of friends, who have faithfully attended.

    Although market driven, Tjoflojters is not particularly vulnerable to the challenges facing most organizations operating in competitive markets. It does not depend on making profits each year to survive. Since there are basically no fixed costs, largely because of high input of volunteer efforts by its members, and occasionally by friends and families, it can allow for expenses to be tailored to the funds available. Tjoflojters' members have sung just for fun among themselves, or performed free of charge at parties and family events, in periods with minimal revenues, thereby enabling the group's survival.

    In contrast to many traditional organizations, Tjoflojters does not necessarily aspire to grow in the future. It is not in the business of profit maximization. Furthermore, Tjoflojters does not depend primarily on continuous improvement of its repertoire for future survival, but rather upon maintaining the friendship within the group; on finding ways for its members to get together and sing at least a few times every year; and finally, on finding audiences who will be willing to be entertained by them. With these needs for the future in mind, let us now turn to examine Tjoflojters' actual strategy and how it serves the purposes of the group.

    2. A pursuit of true Tjoflojtism

    In a pursuit of true Tjoflojtism, the group's mission is to entertain many diverse audiences, while keeping the members themselves amused as well, through the performance of unique combinations of well-known Swedish songs in unusual styles. An implicit but still important objective is to also keep the friendship among the members alive.

    Tjoflojters overall strategy has been to craft and maintain an entertaining repertoire, and to perform when opportunities present themselves, or occasionally when they do not, to create such opportunities by organizing concerts and events.

    The strategy in relation to potential and actual clients has been to act professionally, drawing on each member's experiences in other areas of life. For example, Tjoflojters carefully negotiates the desired length of the show and an agreed upon price with clients before each performance.

    Certain policies help Tjoflojters act consistently, both internally and externally. There is a policy that the members do not claim direct remuneration for performances, but that revenues are kept in a group account. Another is the consistent pricing policy, which says that large corporate clients are charged the highest price, small companies half that price, other organizations yet a lower price. Friends are charged the lowest rate, while performances at events related to the families of the group's members are traditionally free of charge.

    Like any successful organization, Tjoflojters possesses both distinctive competence and unique resources. The former primarily consists of the ability to be funny (as perceived by numerous audiences) in a tjoflojtistic manner. Concerning unique resources, one that immediately comes to mind is Perlan's ability to go crazy on stage, warming up the most frosty audience, by running around, singing, screaming, playing "drums in the air" and generally shaking people up! When we next consider the group's internal capabilities, we will encounter additional forms of distinctive competence.

    3. Internal capabilities have enabled Tjoflojters to be successful

    The following constitutes but a few examples of internal capabilities that have enabled Tjoflojters to be successful:

  • Musical skills in identifying suitable songs, and in adapting them to Tjoflojters' very special style of singing. This includes many brain-storming sessions where new concepts and wild ideas are tested.
  • Excellent organizational skills, with different tasks traditionally shared among the members. So it happens, for example, that Jens has dutifully served as stage manager, keeping all equipment in order. Magnus has kept track of the finances, with assistance from Totte for long-term investments. Perlan and Totte have been primarily responsible for negotiating contracts and clarifying Tjoflojters' requirements towards the clients.
  • A fruitful combination of imagination and judgement, so that the group can craft ideas that, while sometimes being quite extreme, still are successful and do not offend (too many in) the audience.
  • While the former capabilities were brought to the organization by its members, the following two, regarding the ability to reach good decisions, have evolved within it. First let us look at the practice of tjafsology.

    Tjafsology (approximate translation: quarrelology)

    Although the organizational strategy of Tjoflojters is largely implicit, the decision-making processes are quite explicit. The standard procedure is called "tjafsology", which means that each member has an opportunity before every decision to make any and every comment he wishes, so that the issue will be fully explored from all angles before coming to a decision. Furthermore, each member has ultimate veto-power. A different, more conciliatory way of describing this process would be as "consensus decision making".

    Calendar warfare

    A particularly difficult kind of decisions concern identification of times when all six members are available for practice, performance or a social occasion. The method for finding those times is called "calendar-warfare". Each member goes over his calendar and makes suggestions and objections on different possible dates.

    4. Tjoflojters has been successful

    Numerous events could serve as proof of how well Tjoflojters has fulfilled its mission. (See Exhibit 2.) Furthermore, the members have been able to stay together as a group, despite quite divergent life paths. In fact, it has been a self-sustaining situation where Tjoflojters has been able to keep going because the members are such good friends, and they have remained such good friends to a certain extent because they stay in touch and do fun things together in the context of singing.

    Tjoflojters' mission and strategy emerged over time, with inspiration from early successes. This may be quite different from, say, a hospital, which could not take its mission and activity as casually as Tjoflojters has been able to. The mission and strategies of a hospital serve the different purposes of such an organization, with its very different size, relevant external environment, and required capabilities. But, then again, Tjoflojters is a quite unusual organization. It has had the luxury of operating mostly for pleasure, in fairly weak competition, and with few financial constraints.

    In the future, Tjoflojters has good chances of continuing success, although there needs to be ongoing adjustments to the personal circumstances of each of the members. With currently three out of six members being fathers of young children, all members engaged in professional careers, some of them even living abroad for long periods of time, it is clearly difficult to perform or even get together to make plans very frequently. Through continuing commitment to their friendship, and appreciation of the joy of singing together, the members of Tjoflojters can sustain their enterprise. Since the group does not depend on performing a lot for its survival, it has significant discretion in adjusting the level of activity.

    In closing, it may now have become apparent to the reader, not least by the fact that this essay is dedicated to exploring the organizational strategy of Tjoflojters, that its members are committed to the organization's continued existence. The author can only recommend that the group continues to capitalize on the friendship among its members, to perform its existing repertoire at least occasionally, and to find the time every now and then to exercise some tjafsology to craft new musical pieces, to the enjoyment of both the members and their audiences.


    Tjoflojters' structure and history

    Tjoflojters is an independent entity that consists of the following people: (This information is from October 1994. For updated information see Members.

  • Dan Edwall, a 34 year-old dentist, currently doing a post-doc in California, USA, further exploring biomolecular aspects of bone tissue. Dan lives with his wife and their daughter.
  • Per "Perlan" Landin, a 33 year-old red-head father of two, trained in business administration, currently employed in computer magazines publishing.
  • Jens Reutercrona, a 32 year-old, ecologically conscious economist, currently working as comptroller for a division of a major computer consulting firm.
  • Magnus Svanfeldt, a 32 year-old engineer, working as a consultant for the same company that Jens works for. Magnus is getting married in December.
  • Johan Thor, a 31 year-old M.D., currently pursuing MPH studies at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
  • Torsten "Totte" Ortengren, a 31 year-old father of one, trained in business administration. Torsten runs his own business, called "Better glow", selling barbecue grills.
  • Background

    Tjoflojters started out singing only one song. After performing at a high school competition with great success, the confidence rose and more pieces where quickly developed. Another success, at an amateur musical competition in Stockholm in 1982, spurred the group to go on to perform for fees in a more organized manner on many different occasions. It then also undertook tours to skiresorts, thus combining leisure with revenue producing performances. At the peak of activity thus far, Tjoflojters performed on average at least twice a month. In recent years, with many competing commitments for the members, activity has declined to a much more modest level.

    Tjoflojters has a repertoire of some fifteen songs, each consisting of a core familiar song, with inserts from other songs, and humorous lyrics conceived by the members. As an example, they perform a well-known song by an 18th century poet ("Rest by this spring" by Carl Michael Bellman). They start out singing very conventionally in parts. Eventually, things diverge from the traditional format, with puns, jokes and an improvised solo, culminating in a swing-beat version of the song in the end. Overall, each performance is filled with slap-stick jokes, largely drawing on the personalities of each of the group's members, tailored for every occasion and every audience.


    Tjoflojters' list of achievements

  • The high-point for Tjoflojters was its tenth anniversary, when a total of over 1,000 people attended five performances given at a theater in downtown Stockholm. The members and their friends organized and managed all aspects of the show, which included a live orchestra and many memorable sketches, in addition to more traditional songs and gags.
  • Tjoflojters performed for Nobel laureates (an exceptional English performance) at a night-cap arranged by students.
  • The group sang a couple of songs on a Satellite TV station, broadcast several times to 12 million viewers across Europe.
  • Serving as musical hosts at a crayfish party for Sweden's largest brewing company, Tjoflojters lead the sing-along of traditional drinking songs and also performed its own repertoire.
  • Many other corporate events have been the occasions of Tjoflojters' performances.
  • Tjoflojters is renowned for its performances at numerous student events, on birthday parties and at weddings among friends and families.