The Power of Workplace Harmony

I like folk and gospel music, especially the simple cord progressions and rich vocal harmonies around the melody. I was listening to such a song recently (Okay…. It was the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’”), and it got me thinking about harmony in the workplace, what some people today include in conversations of attunement. What follows are some thoughts about this dynamic.

A definition of harmony

From a musical perspective, we know that a collection of notes with specific intervals, such as a C cord, for example, create harmony. In this instance, C is the root tone, and the notes and sounds of the E and G provide the harmony.

Generally speaking, we describe such music as having a pleasant sound or being pleasing to the ear. Musical harmony is actually a complicated construct that has clearly changed over time and varies across cultures and music traditions.

Harmony in an organizational context

When thinking about harmony in the workplace, most people make observations like, “Everyone is getting along,” “Everyone’s on the same page,” or “There’s a sense of belonging here.” What they have noticed is an orderliness to the operations of the business and staff members who are in agreement with organizational direction.

Disharmony, on the other hand, is evident when people don’t get along, creating an environment of unwholesome gossip, troubling cliques and weak leaders. What may be most noticeable is the absence of trust among employees, and between employees and managers.

Let’s go back to the music reference for a moment. In music, when one note is out of place—as in the C cord—it destroys musical harmony. The same occurs in a workplace when one person’s cynicism or negativity pulls down the morale of other employees. These employees, as well as their bedfellows, the hyper-gripers, need to be dismissed.

The power of harmony

Workplace harmony is a dynamic process; in other words, worksites are not at the same harmonious level all the time. The same could be said about personal relationships. We cannot sing in swell-sounding harmony all day long.

There is, however, a general, consistent feeling or tone that reflects the harmony of the setting and its employees. Visitors and clients or customers alike sense this quality quite easily. Furthermore, it is a well-researched fact that harmonious work environments are more productive than those that aren’t, and staff turnover rates are less than in those characterized as disharmonious.

When you have a harmonious worksite—and here I would also include the inside work of organizational committees—the following things are occurring:

  • People are getting along.
  • People know what they should be doing and are doing it.
  • People experience and express joy and satisfaction in their work.
  • People are getting along with their supervisors.
  • People know what’s going on.
  • Conflict, tension and disagreements are handled face-to-face, not via email, by being ignored or sugarcoated.

A harmonious organization doesn’t just happen, nor does it maintain itself without conscious, constant attention and effort.




Proverbs 11:24 (NIV)

One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.


Can't Not Do

Row the Boat

Reality-Based Leadership, Cy Wakeman (Jossey-Bass, 2010)


Written in 2010, Reality-Based Leadership has been well-received and is a very helpful, practical resource for leaders at every level of an organization.

Before discussing a number of helpful insights from the book, I would like to share a specific action I took shortly after reading the book when I was serving as a CEO. Here’s the back story.

Wakeman contends that there are three basic types of problematic ambiguity in an organization. The first is ambiguity concerning goals stemming from a lack of clarity or lack of alignment. Second, conflict occurs when there is a lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities, or who is doing exactly what. And third, ambiguity arises from a lack of agreement regarding procedures and practices—how the work of the organization should be done.

She offers good advice in terms of goals: “Never take for granted that everyone is on the same page.” A huge error is made when thinking about actions and responsibilities if the organization relies on job description to lead the way. Delegation, she claims, is the secret to successful leadership and the antidote to our mismanaging and under-leading.

I would also add a factor to the sources of conflict—ambiguity regarding due dates. The instructions, for example, “Please do this as quickly as possible,” could, by individual, range from “It’s the next thing I should do,” “I’ll take a look at it tomorrow,” “I’ll tackle it as soon as I get this current project done,” or worse yet, “I will work on this as soon as I get back from vacation.”

So now you might be wondering what action I took after reading and thinking about ambiguous management. First of all, this issue was discussed at one of our regular, weekly Executive Committee meetings. We all could identify those times when we were less productive and more critical of one another because of the previously discussed ambiguous elements. As a result, we had the message, “Ambiguity is the source of all conflict.” lettered on the wall of our conference room so we would always have a visual reminder of the insight. It worked well as a constant reminder.

There are other important and useful insights in Wakeman’s book.

  • A research finding from positive psychology: “The more responsibility you take for your results, the happier you will be.”
  • The merits of responding to troubling events or circumstances via the route of asking six questions. Two are shared here:
    • “What do I know for sure?”
    • “What is the very next thing I can do to add value right now?”
  • Coaching the person in front of you.
  • Reality-based leadership, as a philosophy, has everything to do with recognizing and dropping limiting belief systems.

Finally, the appendix includes a self-test: “Managing vs. Leading.” I found it interesting and helpful. It’s also a tool you can share with those you lead.

I recommend this book without hesitation.

If you are curious about curiosity this book is for you.

Purchase this and other recommended books at amazon, your local bookstore or through CherryHillHighTide.com bookstore.

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