Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Danger of Artificial Harmony

In his book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni refers to the organizational problem of artificial harmony.  He argues that 80% of organizations live in the space of artificial harmony – the space where people cannot, may not (!), speak honestly or authentically about their perspective regarding all manner of things in organizational life.        

According to Lencioni, the impact of artificial harmony is that people end up not buying into organizational decisions.  This absolutely has been my experience.     
But there is another angle of artificial harmony that Lencioni refers to that is worth exploring further.  Organizations that live in artificial harmony typically do not live only there.  Instead, they ricochet between artificial harmony and mean-spirited personal attacks (see the diagram above).  When people cannot be honest with one another, they are left to their imaginations to determine the intentions of the other.  Here our imaginations do not help us. 
When we are not permitted to speak into a situation that impacts us, when we are constrained by artificial harmony, when the actions of another have shut us down, it is easy to see the other in a negative light to the degree that even if we maintain artificial harmony publicly, privately we slide into mean spirited personal attacks. 
Neither end of the continuum above leads to organizational health.
The ideal conflict point lies between artificial harmony and mean-spirited personal attacks.   From this place we can disagree honestly, passionately and yes, even kindly with one another.  This is not about inviting tepid engagement.  It is also not about being so direct we are hurtful.  This is about inviting active engagement and nurturing healthy disagreement, recognizing that the most useful wisdom typically emerges from dialogue about differences rather than agreement reached too easily.