When you read or hear the words “synergy” or “synergize,” you might have the same sort of reaction I originally did. I rolled my eyes and muttered something about corporate-speak buzzwords. Then, I looked up what it really means, and I tried to find a simpler, more normal way of saying it. Here’s a definition:
the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
So, yes, this is a thing. The real idea here is that if we have synergy, then when we work together we can produce results that are not only better than either of us could have gotten on our own, but better even than if we had combined our separate results.
Just working together isn’t enough. I’m sure you can think of many examples of when people or groups have worked together and done more than they could have done alone, but the total wasn’t anything special or over the top. Synergy produces something better and unexpected. It produces solutions that aren’t yours or mine, but a third new alternative that would not have even been discovered if we hadn’t been working together.
Synergy isn’t just effective; it’s also energizing and fun! If you’ve ever had the experience of working with a great team of people and playing off one another’s ideas and laughing while doing it, and coming up with something that everyone felt good about, that was synergy.
Synergy is a benefit of new brain thinking. It can only happen when people are open to thinking in creative ways, and committed to looking for solutions without worrying about turf or who is winning or losing. Old brain thinking shuts down the possibility of synergy. Synergy requires the freedom to think about “What if?” possibilities, the future, and other people’s perspectives.
Q: Okay, synergy is good. How do I do it?
A: First, get yourself into a “new brain” mindset. Then, invite others to join you in finding a third alternative.
Stephen R. Covey, who talked a lot about personal effectiveness, suggested that we ask a pretty simple (but profound) question: “Would you be willing to look for a solution that is better than anything that you or I have in mind right now?” This is an important and powerful question. It offers, but doesn’t force, a way to work together and a goal. It sets a high bar that will require creativity to reach. First, you have to put your new brain in control. Then, you can try these suggestions:
- When you generate ideas, listen to the other people without judgment to understand where they are coming from and what they are really concerned about. Ask “Why are they asking for that? What is the story behind this?”
- Share your own thoughts and focus on explaining why you need what you need. Understanding the “why” behind a request can often help us find alternatives that give us what we need, but maybe not in the way we thought that it had to be delivered.
- Think or talk through different options, asking “What if we did this?”
- Finally, stay alert and recognize when you are on the verge of compromising. Take a break, move around, and come back to the task committed to finding a solution that gives each person or group what they need.
Synergy doesn’t work in all situations. It takes some time and effort. It doesn’t work when there is a true competition, like when you have to pick one person for a job. It is best to seek synergy when the problems are complex, when people have strong opinions, and where there doesn’t necessarily have to be any competition. It may be helpful when the problem has resisted multiple attempts to get it solved. The goal is to get beyond “my way” or “your way” to find a third way.
In the end, I couldn’t find a shorter and simpler way to express the idea behind synergyon my own. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way; it just means I’ll have to go out and share some ideas with other smart people until we come up with something we hadn’t considered before….
(Credits to Wikipedia dictionary, Stephen R. Covey, “The 3rd Alternative,” and Rich Trafton and Diane Marentette, “A New Brain for Business.”)