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Can ‘harmony’ be damaging your team and organisation?

Generally, harmony has a positive connotation. It feels good to be with a group where there’s harmony. However, when too much emphasis is on harmony in a group, it can be costly. It can kill innovation, quality and excellence, performance and growth. It can also damage relationships.


I have heard several stories of organisations and teams that valued harmony, how it created ‘false’ harmony on the surface but turmoil and tension under the surface. On the surface, people were polite, respectful, nice and supportive. Under the surface, people were being hurt from back-stabbing and undermining and the environment was unproductive, disengaging and disempowering. People hold back from suggesting new ideas, challenging existing ideas or raising difficult issues.


These are symptoms of not sufficiently embracing qualities other than harmony, such as conflict and challenge. Over-emphasis on harmony plays out like this:


  • Harmony = no conflict
  • No conflict = no ‘real’ conversation
  • No ‘real’ conversation = issues and ideas are not addressed and go underground
  • Frustration and anger build
  • Frustration turn into symptoms such as undermining, revenge, passive aggression and disengagement.
  • People get told off for not being respectful or constructive when the frustrations spill over.
  • People back off, frustration grows, symptoms worsen and issues go further underground.
  • Ultimately, individual, team and organisational performance suffer.


Here’s the paradox. ‘Real’ harmony involves conflict. Real harmony can only be created by having real conversations. Real conversation may feel like conflict and opposite of harmony. Meg Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Sciences, once said in a workshop, “Conflict is an inevitable consequence of inter-dependence.” Our ability to handle conversations that feel like conflict is critical for sustained organisational performance and health.


How much is ‘fake’ harmony costing you and your team and organisation?


What conflict do you need to have to build ‘real’ harmony?


How skilled are your leaders in creating 'real' harmony in their teams and the organisation?


One situation this skill is sorely needed is during tricky performance conversations. You will find more on this topic in my white paper “Step Up: Address performance and behaviour issues before they turn sour” and 2.5 hour mini-workshop “Tough AND Caring: Leadership keys to turning around poor performance and behaviours” on 11th August in Melbourne, Australia. 

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