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How to build team synergy

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It's well documented throughout the sports world how important teamwork is to success, and how detrimental a lack of it can be. Look no further than the recent World Series Champion Boston Red Sox for an example of the former; the synergy displayed by this team transcended any talent deficiencies and left it holding the big trophy. As for the latter, consider what's happening to the Miami Dolphins, where an apparent culture of discord has led to key players leaving the team, resulting in embarrassing losses and increasing disharmony.

What can business leaders learn from this? Quite a bit. Most of us are familiar with the well-known physics concept: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Understanding the importance of creating synergy — the interaction of multiple elements to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of individuals' efforts — can be critical in your leadership role. As a leader, even if you consider yourself to be a superlative problem-solver (the best at your organization), a collaborating group is likely to outperform you. This demonstrates the need to create synergy within your team.

Creating Synergy
Undoubtedly, there are a myriad of management decisions that impact the creation of a phenomenal team that can execute flawlessly and drive results. Research on teams corroborates that a critical leadership skill is not only the ability to create synergy, but utilizing that powerful combined effect of the group wisely to achieve your goals.

A Harvard Business Review Management Update points to two key implications for leaders with respect to creating synergy when it comes to problem solving:

  • First, even if as a leader you are the most knowledgeable, you must collaborate with your team to find solutions or you'll lose the advantage of diversity of knowledge and perspective that result from group interactions.
  • Secondly, if you don't involve your team in problem-solving, you inadvertently encourage passivity from your team members.
  • What constitutes a great team?
    Armed with this knowledge, there are two challenges you face as a leader: putting together the right people on your team to utilize their strengths to the fullest capacity, and creating an organizational environment that will foster the growth and development of that team.

    The key to being an effective business leader is to understand what those critical elements are that form a great team and drive results. When choosing individuals for your team, it's important to assess individuals beyond their technical skills to determine if they can work toward creating a cohesive team.

    Consider the following five “people” factors, which I've found differentiate great teams:

  • Trust
  • — team members must know they can count on each other to get the job correctly done, and if challenges crop up, they'll have each other's backs.
  • Respect
  • — team members must have self-respect, as well as mutual respect for other team members' abilities.
  • Communication
  • — team members must have both the skills and format to communicate openly and honestly with each other.
  • Passion
  • — each team member must be driven to accomplish the team's mutual goals.
  • Commitment
  • — all team members must have the same values, values that dictate doing what it takes to complete projects at the highest level of execution.

    What makes a workplace team work?
    Once you put the right people on your team, you need to create an organizational structure that allows team members to function successfully in their quest to achieve their stated goals.

    Researchers and practitioners have identified six factors that impact a great team in the workplace. They are:

  • A clear set of objectives
  • Metrics that allow team members to assess their performance
  • Ongoing training
  • Decision-making authority to reach goals
  • Team-based rewards and evaluations — not individual incentives
  • An open culture where communication and differing perspectives are encouraged.
  • Take a few minutes to consider how engaged your organization is in creating opportunities for employee growth in these six recommended areas. Developing protocols and education in these critical dimensions is essential to ensure individuals can master the behavioral strategies necessary to become a positive member of a synergistic team.

    However, generating relevant training programs is simply the first step. You have to be willing to create an authentic culture by incorporating internal structures that reinforce these desired behaviors. It's an essential part of creating a workplace environment that fosters synergy and allows your organization to surpass its goals.

    If you are wondering if the investment by your organization in cost, time and energy is worth it, perhaps a good question to ask yourself is whether you would rather emulate the Red Sox example of game-changing synergy rather than dealing with negative fallout, such as the kind impacting the Dolphin's season.

    Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]


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