Why “Workplace Harmony” Should Come With A Warning Label

June 21st 2013

Have you ever been in a meeting where there was unanimous support for an idea or action, everyone agreed it needed to be done, it was all signed off – only to walk out of the room and hear murmurs of disagreement, discontent and comments like ‘it’ll never work’, made by the very same people who just publicly threw their support behind the idea?

 It’s infuriating and begs the question ‘well why didn’t you say something at the time?’

This behaviour is often a symptom of a deeper cultural issue and it’s very common in teams that strive for harmony as their main game.

The lesson for us is in business is that respect should always triumph over harmony.

We all want to be happy at work

The goal of workplace harmony might be a noble aim, but it should come with warning label. Taken too far it will push destructive behaviour underground, stifle robust debate and create an environment where people are too scared to raise concerns in case they rock the almighty harmony boat. It can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

The team that frowns on any conflict gets in the way of innovation and creativity. It strips the work of the inherent value most of us derive from making personal contributions, and leads to poor team performance and poor employee engagement.

So, what beats the goal of harmony? RESPECT

When the most cherished behaviour of a team is respect an interesting dynamic occurs. People feel free to speak out without being ridiculed or marginalised. Harebrained concepts that would have been put to one side are considered and refined into innovative and market-creating products. People who disrespect others in this environment are quickly brought into line.

The result is that it helps the work become inherently meaningful which does a lot more for how you feel about your job and your colleagues than any team building exercise can.

How do I know this?

I led a team of 18 people for a year in Antarctica. Around the clock, all day, every day, through months of darkness, for an entire year. We had plenty of conflict – especially over the dinner table at meals 3 times a day. We were an incredibly diverse team so we naturally had varying opinions. But harmony was out and respect was in.

In spite of our differences we learned to listen and not judge the person. Behaviours that demeaned or denigrated others were swiftly dealt with.  It was no accident either. I never expected my very diverse team of 18 people to all love each other. Or even to like each other for that matter. But I did expect they would show respect for each other.

So, where do you start?

There are three simple tools I use to build respect in teams:

 1)    No Triangles – you don’t speak to him about her, I don’t speak to you about him. No triangles. Go directly to the source. Have the decency and professionalism to speak to the person concerned, not a third party.

 2)    LADAR – the language radar. Listen out for emotive words such as “everyone” or “no-one”, “always” or “never”. It’s rarely ‘everyone’ and ‘always’ is a big call. Stick to the facts and use data. This is particularly important for leaders having performance management conversations with their people.

 3)    Deal with the small things. Know when to deal with the small things before they become issues – as a leader know when to step-in and manage a situation, when to diffuse it, when to step-back and when to escalate issues to line management and/or the HR team. I use a simple decision-making framework each time that informs how I will respond in each moment.

What about your workplace?

Does your organisation have teams that go to great lengths to present a happy face? Dig a little deeper and make sure it’s underpinned with respect. Are there workplace issues people are afraid to raise? What if they replaced harmony with respect? What would change? Would the team be better off?

Read more about No Triangles on Rachael’s blog

For more Information on Rachael Robertson please contact ODE Management on +1 877 950 5633 or enquiries@odemanagement.com

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Why “Workplace Harmony” Should Come With A Warning Label
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