In the academic course, Administration of Educational Technology Units, that I teach at Concordia and the Technical Communication Manager certificate program that I teach for the Society for Technical Communication, I include an exercise on hiring workers.
One of the scenarios in the exercise focuses on a situation in which a manager has the opportunity to bring a brash 25-year-old man into a harmonious department of primarily comprised of middle-aged women. In the scenario, most of the workers express concern that the young man won’t fit in but the person who would work most closely with the young man says that she’s comfortable working with him.
Most people respond that the manager should not hire him because the candidate could disrupt the harmony of the group.
But the point of the exercise is that the harmony might not be a “healthy” harmony, it could be group-think, because the managers of the department have tended to hire clones of the workers.
“Can Harmony Hurt Team Performance?” by Mark de Rond, Adrian Moorhouse, and Matt Rogan and recently posted on The Conversation blog of the Harvard Business Review online specifically explores this type of situation.
The authors suggest that harmony can hurt team performance when:
- “Competition is stifled for the sake of promoting interpsonal harmony,” adding that that competition does not disappear, it merely finds another outlet, usually in the form of office gossip.
- True “harmony is far more likely to be the consequence, and not the cause, of team performance.” Better than “harmony” is a situation in which workers feel they can safely say what they feel without hurting the overall dynamic of the team, an.
- “What can feel dysfunctional need not be dysfunctional,” suggesting that workers in the midst of a project might not be in the best position to assess the dynamics of the team working on it.