Desperately Seeking Synergy?

The key to what lies before us is unlocking what stands between us.

Despite the fact most teams already possess the answers to the challenges they face, they struggle to talk about the right issues, fight for the right things and make the tough decisions. Somehow, instead of multiplying their collective capabilities, they divide them and their results are average at best.

When faced with these circumstances, industrious leaders tighten their belts and lean in. They get into the minutia, resolve disagreements, make decisions, and performance manage problem individuals. They don't stop until productivity improves. Unfortunately, any gains are difficult to sustain without considerable individual effort, leaving synergy far from grasp.

Another approach is to consider team interventions that inspire better membershipversus require more leadership. Group development research (and probably your own personal experience) has found that new or immature teams require a lot from their leaders to perform. They avoid conflict. They yearn for safety. They demand structure. They want someone in charge to make the decisions. The reverse is true of highly evolved teams. They welcome conflict, have a high tolerance for risk, prefer change over the status quo and are not dependent on the leader for decision-making. It’s clear the difference between immature and mature teams lies mainly in membership behaviors. I find these basic facts are not in debate – the struggle for leaders is getting the change to occur when it does not occur on its own.

I like tackling this paradox with a dash of conflict. Conflict constructs teams. It raises engagement, tests commitment and builds ownership. If you don’t have it, get some. Start with broad questions to the team and probe until you find and resolve disagreements. What is our work? Why do we do it? How should we do it? Then, get specific. Explore past failures to uncover lessons for the future. Discuss looming decisions. Ensure different perspectives are raised. Celebrate bold thinking. Still no conflict, encourage members to challenge proposals, even if they support them. Incite debate.

If you’re already suffering from an abundance of conflict, dig in. Don’t feed into the conflict du jour; but, do talk about the conflict. Ask penetrating questions. Why do we fight about the wrong things? Why aren’t our disagreements making us stronger? Should we change the way we raise and resolve issues? How can we encourage debate but keep from spending too much time on it? What can we do differently to be more successful?

Immerse the team in the right questions and resist the urge to provide answers. Your goal is to get results with breakthroughs in membership, not leadership.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Edward E. Tyson is a Marine Corps veteran, former strategy executive and co-founder of PerSynergy Consulting - a boutique consulting firm focused on strategy development and execution; individual, team and organizational development; and performance improvement.