Before explaining how to create team synergy in the workplace, here is an example of how to create synergy that you may have already encountered. A coworker recently told me about her grandson trying out for and making the high school soccer team. One of the youngest on the team, she told me how excited he was about being part of the team, making the cut out of 78 other people for the few available spots. He was looking forward to the opportunity of playing with new teammates. “We even have our first game next week!” he had told her.
School sports teams deal with a unique challenge in that their team roster is constantly rotating out. Students graduate and new players join, making each year’s team a unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, and temperaments. In many settings, losing key team members or gaining new ones the team is unfamiliar with can cripple a team. So how do some school teams manage to unify their team each year, performing as a cohesive group despite changes in the lineup?
The answer is by achieving synergy in teamwork.
What Is Synergy?
The English word “synergy” may sound like an overwrought business buzzword, but it’s actually classical in origin. It comes from the Greek roots “sun” (meaning “together”) and “ergon” (meaning work). The conjugation was passed on to the Romans, who used it to mean “cooperation,” and then was passed to English in the mid-1800s.
At first, the word was only used in English by social theorists and philosophers. Then early chemists, as they began to differentiate between atoms and molecules, found they had a word-shaped hole in their academic lexicon. Basically, they had no way to account for how base elements (like sodium and chlorine) combined into molecules (like table salt) with properties entirely different from the original components. To explain this strange and miraculous cooperation, they used the word “synergy.”
Business usage wasn’t far behind, as most organizations sought to achieve similar collaborative results from the combination of talented and capable employees. These days, the word has seen a lot of use (and perhaps abuse), but the core meaning still has merit. In our professional lives, we’re seeking effective teamwork—we want the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. So as cliche as it sounds, most of us are pursuing synergy in teamwork as a serious goal. We develop our team player skills in order to come together to create a great team.
For those who are, here are some guidelines to help you reach it.
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In order for a team to cooperate properly, everyone on the team needs to know what the objective is, and everyone’s objective needs to be the same. Different team members will obviously be filling different functions in pursuit of that goal, but different objectives create chaos and conflict. The same goes for goals that aren’t clear. Goals need to be clearly defined for each person to understand what success looks like and how they’re meant to help achieve it.
In other words, a team where everyone is shooting for different hoops is a team that won’t be winning many games.
Once everyone knows where the hoop is, the team needs to communicate so each player knows what his or her teammates need from them. Naturally, most of the communication happens in the planning phases, whether it’s a sports team or a business team. Once it’s game time, everyone is set to task filling their roles, but there are still huddles and time-outs when the strategy needs to change on the fly.
The key is finding a balance between being direct and polite. Be clear with your needs or instructions (as clear goals are the best). Be mindful of the burden or stress you’re placing on them, and do what you can to make their evolving responsibilities possible to achieve.
CMOE describes empowerment as “The extent to which someone provides the encouragement, tools, and authority to others, enabling them to use their power, talents and skills effectively.” Going back to our sports analogy, a good coach trains his or her team well and then instills in each player the belief that they are fully capable of completing the task at hand. Then, the coach steps back and lets them play.
Likewise, good teammates don’t try to hog the ball (or the spotlight). They know that the success of the team is more important than the success of any individual player, so they help each other out, and they trust their teammates to do the same.
Showing your team that you have faith in their abilities and that you trust them to do their job well is the most important job a team leader has. And a team with no faith in itself is not likely to succeed.
Finally, being a member of a team requires personal commitment and dedication to the overall success of a team. This ties closely into empowerment because a team can’t function properly if no one trusts their teammates to have their back. Each player needs to be confident that their teammates—and the coach—are committed to supporting them, and that they won’t be left high and dry.
Success requires dedication, and dedication is predicated on commitment.
Just like that high school soccer team, your team has members joining and leaving all the time. Different temperaments, abilities, and interests risk creating conflict and contention within the team, which can confuse goals and obscure communication. Building team synergy isn’t easy, but if you’re committed to the team, others will soon follow suit.