Whether you have worked in the field of team development or have been part of a team yourself, you know that there are myriad factors that ultimately determine team performance. One of these important factors is team harmony. What does this mean (Here’s a clue: it’s not an absence of conflict) – and why is harmony so important to effective team performance?
Imagine what would happen if we purposefully built a team made up of adversarial and diverse individuals and told them that they should place significant value on unique perspectives, philosophical differences and dissenting opinions. What kind of team do you imagine this would turn out to be? For most people, the thought of an intentionally diverse team is completely counterintuitive; after all, we all know that teams need to agree and collaborate in order to deliver on their mandates and achieve their performance expectations. However, this is only partially right. While a team like this would require considerable oversight and strong team development processes to support the desired culture, the characteristics of dissent, diverse opinions and conflict have been proven to improve their chances of meeting their performance goals.
Teams are now seemingly the basic building blocks of organisations, so the ability to establish, develop, and maintain teams of diverse individuals is critical to the organisation’s success. Music offers us a great analogy: in music, it is the different notes combined together that make it sound good. If everyone sang the same note, the resulting sound would be flat, monotonous and boring. Similarly, in an orchestra, when the instruments harmonise together, they fill the gaps in each other’s sounds, producing a delightfully melodious piece. That’s the power of diversity!
In teams this means that the ‘magic happens’, when completely different people with unique skill sets, personalities, and motivations can cooperate and collaborate.
There are complex dynamics in every team; through the lens of Enneagram, what follows are insights into team dynamics and how you can leverage this understanding of the Enneagram and the way Types respond to create harmony and more effective team performance.
Let’s start by looking at what constitutes an unharmonious team. Boring team meetings, everyone consistently bobbing their heads in agreement, none of the team members challenging the status quo, and conformity of thought or perspectives. Although the placid nature of these team behaviours might suggest a harmonious environment, in reality, it is the very opposite. It could signal danger to the longevity and sustainability of the team. It is import to remember that harmony in teams is not the absence of conflict in teams.
The harmony of a team is more than just individuals working together to achieve a goal. It is also about the way the individual members fit together and create balance. In other words, it is about how the participation of diverse team members, each contributing to the team’s ability to work efficiently and achieve results. Team harmony, therefore, is not the opposite of diversity – instead, harmony acknowledges and leverages team diversity.
It means that stifling differences and pushing for consensus (not considering conflicting views), undermine the innate diversity in the team and the unique value it offers. Accessing a team's unique experiences, knowledge, and skillsets could, therefore, result in alternative ways of thinking and problem-sovling. Teams that learn to embrace this diversity are more likely to achieve harmony.
When teams can manage the inevitable opposing forces and trade-offs inherent in their make-up, they can work through differences. How? By engaging in productive, unfiltered debate free from feelings of insecurity or embarrassment. They transform the potential for conflict into the potential for creative tension. Team members feel safe to air conflicting opinions and perspectives when their unique qualities and contributions are embraced, and this leads to wholeness or harmony.
By embracing productive conflict (a specific kind of conflict) and safeguarding psychological safety, teams are actually more - not less - likely to find harmony.
As team researcher and author Patrick Lencioni explains, “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are not afraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”
Why is harmony an enviable team characteristic?
When there is harmony in a team, for instance, when the relationships between members are healthy, there is consensus (if not agreement), congruence, productive conflict, as well as a sense of safety, connection and trust. These teams exhibit the following:
Team cohesion around purpose
Honest feedback, questions, exchange of ideas
Thoughtful, measured responses
Mutual support and rapport
Shared responsibility and accountability
High individual productivity and performance
These characteristics drive profound progress towards the shared vision and goals, and therefore, team effectiveness and success.
In contrast, in an unharmonious team, when the relationships between members are taken for granted, when conflict is avoided, or engaged with in a non-productive manner, and when unresolved challenges, problems, and issues create suspicion, distrust and fear, we see the following characteristics:
Reactivity or passive-aggressive responses
Lack of support (no one taking responsibility)
Embarrassment, rejection and potentially even punishment for those who speak up
Lack of innovation when people don’t dare or care to disagree
Individual lack of engagement
Higher levels of stress
Ultimately, these characteristics results in low team productivity and stalled forward momentum, which, over the long term, will inevitably translate into team failure.
Here is a truly beautiful illustration from nature underscoring why harmony in a team is desirable..
According to author Dan Coyle, these starlings “represent the ultimate in group performance: cohesive, cooperative, agile. They do not possess ‘soft skills’ of any kind; after all, their brains are the size of a grain of rice. But they can perform like this because they are good at one thing: paying continuous attention to small signals of connection, space, and direction”. The starlings illustrate the potential harmony that is possible within a team. When members feel that they are safely connected, sharing accurate information, and know in which direction to move. When a sense of balance is achieved, and there is congruence (not uniformity) in their approach.
The latest trend analyses and research support this. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends and Workplace Design Trends 2017 and Beyond reveals how central teams are to organisational success. More to the point, they show how successful teams – who meet performance expectations – are those that don’t avoid conflict. These teams are capable of addressing issues as they transpire, are aware of their team dynamics and stage of team development. They honour and leverage individual members’ motivations, styles, talents, aspirations and passions.
How can the Enneagram support teams achieve harmony?
A team’s Enneagram profile, or style, reflects the product of the individual members’ core Enneagram Types. The team style offers tremendous insight into how the individuals relate to each other, the team as a whole, as well as how well the team relates to its broader context.
Understanding the individual members’ core motivations, entrenched patterns of behaviours and triggers, as well as the team’s collective values and motivations, affords team members the opportunity to build their social intelligence, explore and embrace the polarities that exist between members, understand members’ approach to conflict and respect, and leverage the differences between team members. These insights and perspectives derived from the Enneagram increase the team’s ability to foster harmony.
Looking at each of the possible team styles, we see that harmony is possible when:
Team members demonstrate that they are talented, responsible and ethical in working towards the vision and/or the team’s goals. If given the opportunity to develop procedures and bring structure and improvement to the team environment, the team is likely to experience some degree of harmony. (Provided that their high levels of self-control don’t inhibit productive team conflict.)
Team members demonstrate warmth, supportiveness and attentiveness to working on the relational aspects of the team’s vision and goals. If given the opportunity to bring ‘care and consideration’ to their team efforts and be service/mission- oriented, the team is likely to achieve a sense of harmony. However, this could be disrupted by the team’s tendency to erupt in anger during conflict, limiting the productiveness of the conflict and undermining team cohesion and productivity.
Team members demonstrate competence, efficiency, and a determined focus on setting and achieving team goals. If given the opportunity to develop targeted execution plans, solve problems in practical ways and sell/market the team image, this team will likely feel a sense of harmony. Team’s predisposition for arguing and competing internally, valuing individual needs over the team’s, destabilising team cohesion and productivity, could disrupt this sense of harmony.
Team members demonstrate connectedness, imagination, and authentic self-expression when working towards the team’s vision and goals. If given the opportunity to find their passion, focus on aesthetics and utilise their creative abilities, this team is likely to experience some degree of harmony. For this team, the challenge to harmony will come from members becoming withdrawn and introspective, taking things personally, or when their frequent conflict becomes emotionally charged.
Team members demonstrate that they are capable, logical, and autonomous in working towards the team’s vision and goals. If given the opportunity to focus, have expertise and resolve issues through inquiry, this team could achieve some sense of harmony. However, this harmony is likely to be short-lived if the team’s tendency to overlook the value of in-person contact leads them to work independently of each other. Harmony in a team cannot be achieved when members remain isolated from each other.
Team members demonstrate dedication, situational awareness, and trustworthiness in working towards the team’s vision and team goals. If given the opportunity to troubleshoot and develop contingency plans, such a team will experience harmony. This harmony will be bolstered by the team’s tendency to debate but could be undermined if the team doesn’t actually move into action and generate results.
Team members demonstrate vision, a desire for stimulation, and optimism in working towards the team’s vision and goals. If given the opportunity to work at a fast pace, have variety and fun, and develop new perspectives, the team will feel a certain sense of harmony. High energy levels, enthusiasm, and a tendency to reframe things more positively might inhibit productive conflict. Avoiding tough issues altogether might lead to the team getting stuck in an unhelpful and counterproductive cycle of conflict – undermining cohesion and productivity.
Team members demonstrate that they are respectful, confident, and willing to take action towards the team’s vision and goals. If given the opportunity to align with a grand plan or a great leader, determine strategy, and take effective action, the team will experience harmony. If the team’s conflict is riddled with aggression, team cohesion and productivity will eventually suffer as team harmony dissipates.
Team members demonstrate effectiveness, honesty, and integrity towards the team’s vision and team goals. If given the opportunity to forge win-win compromises, be process-oriented, and facilitate dialogue, the team will realise the harmony it so badly desires. However, this team tends to associate being assertive as bad or limiting, avoiding and suppressing productive conflict as a result. Over time, this can impede harmony significantly as well as team cohesion and productivity.
Teams, and the diverse individuals that they are comprised of, are a reality of the modern organisation. Helping teams achieve a state of harmony, which strongly correlates with increased team cohesion and productivity (i.e. high team performance) is of paramount importance.
Understanding the true nature of harmony is a fundamental element of this work. If we erroneously assume that harmony is just a synonym for ‘no fighting’ and ‘conflict’ in a team, we miss the intricacies of the notion. As a result, teams will struggle to truly achieve team harmony. When we understand that the success of a harmonious team lies in its abaility to leverage its members’ diversity, and to provide the space and conditions for productive conflict, we bring wholeness, balance and harmony to the team.
The Enneagram provides a practical framework for this work and provides us with an understanding of the individuals’ and team’s styles . It also highlights the ways to embrace and manage the many paradoxes and polarities that exist within teams. In doing so, organisations can leverage the diversity of the team members, and help them understand that productive conflict is not about winning - it’s about psychological safety, and deepening our understanding of the truth.