Although my title appears to be an incorrect math equation, its secret meaning makes me thankful (for once) of graduate studies in theology that included Koine Greek. What? Maybe this will help.

Per the always inerrant Wikipedia, “Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Greek word synergia (συνεργία) from synergos, (συνεργός), meaning “working together.” To add more context to the concept, in Christian theology synergism is the position of those who hold that salvation involves some form of cooperation between the divine will and human freedom. Thus, this dynamic allows for something greater to be achieved than man alone could accomplish.”

Wiki continues: “If used in a business application, synergy means that positive teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person within the group were working toward the same goal individually. However, the concept of group cohesion needs to be considered. Group cohesion is that property that is inferred from the number and strength of mutual positive attitudes among members of the group. As the group becomes more cohesive, its functioning is affected in several ways. First, the interactions and communication between members increase. Common goals, interests and small size all contribute to this. In addition, group member satisfaction increases as the group provides friendship and support against outside threats.”

So, creating teams is the answer to most organizational maladies, right? You know, “teamwork makes the dream work” (I just loathe that tired cliché). No, not at all. Putting people in the same space and grouping them together along with a task does not create synergy anymore than what you see in an elevator crowded with disparate strangers. The idea that proximity breeds synergy is outright false. I’ve seen more dysfunctional teams than I care to count. Geez, have you watched the Cincinnati Bengals (Bungles?) play this year?

There are some critical characteristics that cause teams to create synergy. Here are a few:

      Common Goals – Unless the team is pointing at the very same goal, chaos will ensue. Questions like, “What are we trying to achieve here?” or “What is the desired outcome?” should always be in front of the group. I also recommend one overriding goal, with possible sub-goals, as opposed to multiple desired outcomes.

      Quality Communication – Not just talking, but active listening and dynamic verbal interaction are critical in achieving synergy. Simply said, if there is no dynamic communication the team will not achieve its desired purpose. What kind of outcome would you expect from a team that relied only on nonverbal communication? That, as we all know, would be both sad and humorous.

      Complimentary Talents – If everyone on the team has the same strengths and propensities, the necessary diversity of talents will not happen. If everyone, for example, has an accountant’s personality, we might end up with a great looking Excel spreadsheet that accomplishes little (not picking on my fine accounting friends…I could have use salespeople as examples too – and that would have been far more amusing). Relying on those strengths is critical, however, can you imagine Peyton Manning playing left guard?

      Cooperative Spirit – Having the same goal but an inability to cooperate and collaborate will frustrate the work to the point of paralysis. And we all know a cooperative spirit when we see one, one where no one is trying to dominate or usurp an undeserved leadership position. Again, active listening and dynamic communication help facilitate collaboration, but the team members must be postured with an attitude of “co-operation” for this to transpire.

      Concentration on a Bigger Purpose – If the purpose is just to achieve a task or solve a problem, and that’s not aligned with the organization’s mission and vision, the incongruity is obvious. A key question is “How does the solution fit into the bigger picture and dovetail with the culture of the company?” Of even greater magnitude and importance is the idea that the outcome helps the organization become a better global citizen.

      Credit Averse – This is a scenario where no team member exalts their visibility above the others, where the adage “it’s amazing what can be accomplished if no one wants the credit” is truly in force. As we all know, this is very rare and why for real synergy to exist there needs to be more than an organized team and a shared goal.

So, maybe 2 plus 2 can equal 5…if there is real synergy. But real synergy is substantially more than creating teams, crafting goals, and sequestering the participants. Is synergy valuable? Yes! Is it easy? Not so much.