The key to optimal performance rests in the words of Aristotle’s musing that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In terms of relationships and reaching big potential, two or more people have the possibility of creating a greater contribution together than they might independently. Synergy is the idea that combined effort allows for boundless innovation, thus having the potential for greater outcomes.
Synergy is everywhere in nature and is more than just working together in a group. Bringing folks together on a project can work well – or not – just like in the natural environment. Consider the positive synergy between honeybees and flowers: the bees feed off of the flower’s nectar, and while doing so accumulate pollen to carry to the next flower, helping the plant reproduce through pollination. Both flowers and bees benefit from the relationship, and the relationship has larger impact benefitting wildlife biodiversity. But what happens when flowers are exposed to pesticides? This creates negative synergy, as the bees’ health is at risk, with consequences on pollination, and detriments in the overall ecosystem. Positive and negative synergy also influence organizational productivity. Positive synergy catalyzes, unifies, and unleashes great potential in people. Negative synergy shows up as dependence, rivalry, politicking, and blocks the capacity to thrive at work.
Generating positive synergy is accomplished by applying principles of creative cooperation to our social interactions, and the essence of this is to value diversity and differences. So, how do we get there? Valuing the uniqueness and contributions of each member on the team starts with acquiring the key skills of awareness and mindfulness.
Awareness is the first step in recognizing perceptions and behaviors that need to be shifted. Many of us are too busy multi-tasking and playing catch-up with our to-do lists to bring clear consciousness to our own mental states. This requires slowing down regularly and periodically monitoring:
- Reactions to different situations
- Judgements of others
- Responses toward others
- Beliefs about others’ perceptions of you
Our stress levels are typically higher at work due to the face-paced nature and the tendency to worry about future deadlines and ruminate on prior performance. Mindfulness is the skill of bringing focused attention to the present moment without evaluating and analyzing – allowing the moment to just ‘be’ as it is. Such practices positively affect performance, well-being, and enhance social relationships. Some strategies to become more mindful include:
- Set a timer for 1 minute and concentrate on your breath – do this 2 – 3 times during the workday to re-wire the brain’s ability to focus.
- Commit to working on one task at a time. If you find yourself multi-tasking, pause, and redirect your efforts toward the most pressing task at hand until you’ve reached an acceptable conclusion or transition point.
- Turn off alerts and other distractions that take you off center (like email and text message notifications).
- Schedule time for answering emails and messages and refrain from continually checking throughout the day.
When we do the personal work of strengthening our ability to be aware and mindful, we can express ourselves more genuinely and lead and listen in more relatable ways. The essence of synergy is valuing and respecting differences so that we can capture each team member’s strengths and leverage those strengths to overcome areas of limitation.
When groups combine their knowledge, insights, and ideas, they often generate higher level productivity than would have been made by independent pursuits. The outcome is increased creativity, solutions, and relational connection, opening the door for the expression of diverse views and talents. Momentum and excitement build with relational synergy, creating the space for shared goals and enhanced group effectiveness.