There is a moment when everything is perfect. That nothing can change that. That no matter what happens, it will be exactly the right thing, and everyone will be happy. A pure moment of harmony, where we are on a roll and we feel invincible. At times, it can even be felt in the team, nothing seems to stop it, there is no risk, the problems can be solved easily, and they even may be nonexistent. One can wonder if this is real, even possible, but we tell ourselves: “as long as it stays this way”.
Really? Is this what we want? Are we not in an idyllic moment when we don’t really know why it’s going so well and we want at all costs to remain in this state of comfort that seems perfect? It sounds too good to be true. However, our first reaction is not to touch anything. Obviously, this is surely a moment of artificial harmony: a state of mind, whether personal or in a team, where nothing can go wrong. It’s actually just like a honeymoon. Everything is beautiful, we are in love, we smile at everything, the outside world has no hold on us and time is irrelevant. In fact, it is not unusual for a team to live these kinds of moments on a regular basis. And having to face the effects of artificial harmony can help the team move forward, it can slow it down, or it can make it feel completely useless.
Why should we be wary about it?
The name says it all, it is artificial. This is not a real harmony where we see life through pink glasses and all our problems are gone. It is often desirable, but we know very well that it is an ideology.
We should be wary about this state because it makes us forget what’s really happening around us. We become impervious to the problems, it pushes the boundaries, for example the delivery dates, and above all: this is temporary. When a team or person is in this state, we often want to hold on and stay still. We take actions to remain in this state, except that the more we try to stay in it, the more our problems will catch us up. When in artificial harmony, we become blind to warnings and signals outside of our perfect bubble. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to come back to reality.
Why does it occur?
It often occurs as a result of a difficult situation, at a time when everything goes wrong, when we can’t get out of a challenging situation. For example, a team that fails to deliver, to meet delivery deadlines, to avoid bugs in production, etc. Then, with lots of searching, we find something that works. It is followed by a moment of relief, happiness, and even epiphany! At this precise moment, artificial harmony begins. We float, ideas emerge, and we make long-term plans.
It occurs because it is accompanied by a strong sense of security that we seek to have. In this state, it is more comfortable to propose ideas, to create movement, to engage people, in short, to be highly motivated. So, it is easy to imagine that anyone would want to create harmony in order to then be in this state. However, like anything else, if it is built on false premises or we perceive the wrong reasons, all will eventually collapse.
How to recognize it?
Artificial harmony is closely related to the concept of newness. Remember the feeling when purchasing that thing we really wanted for a long time? How we can no longer separate from it, it’s the most wonderful thing, and everything we do revolves around it? Then, comes the moment when we spend all our spare time with it. Specific occasions are organized around it and we present it to friends, etc. Then, we very often end up getting tired of it and we simply move on.
It is also linked to permanence. Think about what you are told when you ask a question about the way a team operates: “We’ve always done it like that.” Or “I agree, but it will never change.” These are signs that there has been an artificial harmony for a long time and that it is perpetuated by our way of thinking. We can notice it when we ask the following questions: “Are you okay?”, “Is that it?” or “How was the food?” We are destabilized when people respond negatively. It is a permanent artificial harmony that is embedded in our culture.
What can it cause?
Besides this sense of security, artificial harmony can cause misperceptions of our surrounding, of what is actually happening. Thus, we begin to interpret what is going on, based solely on what is happening in our perfect bubble. In short, we start imagining things.
For example, let’s think of the need to implement Agility in a team. Many people will try to be better, to change things that do not work well, to reduce costs, etc. Basically, these are reasons that can enhance motivation. Then, we think we have the perfect solution and we get started. We turn everything into iterations, we train people, we create committees, we change the way we do things. When we encounter a problem, we stay calm, we think it’ll take a while to get things up and to adapt. During all that time, we are in this perfect bubble. That’s when we might feel invincible and we dismiss peoples’ comments. They are classified as refractory, and we say tell ourselves that they don’t understand. Yet these people can help us see more clearly giving us angles that we would not have thought of. Why are we avoiding this fabulous experience? Maybe not to lose the control we believe we have.
Should we flee from artificial harmony or use it?
I don’t think we can completely escape it. These moments eventually invade us. In any case, artificial harmony pervades our culture: movies, novels, theater, etc. We are continually examining it from every angle. Although it is artificial, it helps us to learn, to explore angles that we wouldn’t otherwise. I think we can use it in order to master a particular situation, to test an approach. However, I believe that to stay in our comfort zone ends up hindering us considerably to the point of being excluded.
When we reach this area of stability, we must try to disturb the balance in order to discover new ways of doing more and better. I think we should be wary about artificial harmony if it has become the norm, but in small doses, it can help us progress.