Death to artificial harmony

How much conflict does your team have? If the answer is “almost none” then either everything is perfect (it’s not) or the harmony is fake.

Artificial harmony is one of my favorite signs of team dysfunction because it’s so dang sneaky. “My team is happy, they never fight!” Seems reasonable, right?

But fear of conflict is the killer of psychological safety. If they never fight, then they aren’t being honest with each other. If they can’t be honest, then they can’t talk about the most painful problems. Say hello to easy retros and violent politeness.

Fighting is a good thing, as long as it’s productive and comes from a place of trust and respect. Healthy conflict is everything. The classic book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has a great summary:

Teams that fear conflict …

Have boring meetings
Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management

Teams that engage in conflict …

Have lively, interesting meetings
Extract and exploit the ideas of all team members
Solve real problems quickly
Minimize politics
Put critical topics on the table for discussion

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Don’t be fooled by artificial harmony. A team without conflict is a team without psychological safety.

P.S. I love proclaiming death to things in blog post titles. See also:

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