Are there any words more loathed than “synergy”? It’s become a poster child for the corporate buzzwords, a term that has all but lost its meaning for many, and often represents the business world’s habit of mangling language. And yet, despite this reputation, it persists for a simple reason: There’s no better way to refer to the deep collaborative process it describes.
That process is not just relevant these days, but highly sought after. As more teams look for ways to work better together in hybrid or remote work environments, or improve their cross-functional productivity, synergy is coming back into the conversation – not as a corporate pejorative, but as a sincere attempt to dig deeper into what makes a team work.
So let’s take this misunderstood concept apart, and try to understand what synergy really means.
What is team synergy?
Team synergy is when a group works to bring everyone’s individual strengths and perspectives together to form something larger and more significant than they could on their own.
But achieving synergy means more than just working well together. It requires teams to actively and persistently assess their individual strengths and weaknesses in order to understand how they can best utilize each member, compensate for their shortcomings, and more cohesively build toward something bigger than themselves.
Does team synergy mean teamwork?
Team synergy and teamwork are often confused with each other – and for good reason. Teamwork is at the heart of synergy. It is the foundational element on which synergy is built. But the core difference is that teamwork simply describes the act of working together, whereas team synergy is when this sense of collaboration reaches its full potential.
You can think of teamwork as climbing the mountain, and synergy as reaching the summit together. By this stage, your team is not just communicating well with each other, but anticipating what each person will do or say. This involves having an intimate knowledge of everyone’s working and communication styles, understanding their unique personalities and relationships, and knowing the best way to support each other to achieve your collective goals.
All this means that it can be a lot to ask, which is why synergy is often talked about in terms of achievement.
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Why does team synergy matter?
So is achieving synergy a realistic goal for most teams? Should it even be something that you shoot for? Although it may not come overnight, synergy is well worth working toward. The following are some of the benefits it offer:
- Increased productivity: Effective teamwork leads to higher productivity, so just imagine what’s possible when your team is operating at its peak.
- Better morale: Synergy requires a high degree of emotional intelligence from everyone. That means little (if any) conflict, more support, and more accomplishments – all ingredients for improved morale.
- Lower turnover: Teams that achieve synergy will get their work done fast and efficiently. This kind of high-functioning environment will be one that few people will want to leave.
- Greater flexibility: The ability to work well together will also mean a greater capacity to respond to unexpected challenges and adapt to new circumstances. Team members will know they can lean on one another whenever there is change.
- More innovation: When your team is operating at such a high level, sharing resources and exchanging knowledge, don’t be surprised when they come up with new and creative ideas.
How to determine if your team has synergy
Some people may be eager to declare some good teamwork a prime example of synergy. Others may be more reluctant to call out when their team has actually achieved it. Whatever your case, knowing how to figure out when your team really has it will help you determine what you’re doing well, as well as where you might still need to improve.
Look out for these signs that synergy is truly happening within your team:
- Seamless collaboration: Being able to reach out for a team member to get some help on a project is one thing. Not having to say you need help before it’s offered is another entirely. When there is a sense of collaboration that seems almost second nature, that’s a clear sign of synergy.
- Boundless trust: Would you trust your team members to take your workload on for a day? For a week? Would you trust them to do this without any resentment? If the answer is yes, then more likely than not you’re working with team synergy.
- Transparent communication: Communication is easy when you have good things to say. The real test is when you have to give constructive criticism or feedback. If you can do this honestly and without reservation, then you might have achieved synergy.
- Efficient and consistent outcomes: Take a close look at what your team is producing. Even good numbers can be the result of temporary external factors, such as extra resources or favorable clients. But if your team keeps producing excellent results, even when the conditions aren’t great, that might be synergy.
4 ways to build team synergy
There may be a high bar for achieving synergy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. As long as you know the right elements to develop, it’s within your reach. Here are four ways you can start building team synergy.
1. Start with communication.
Is there anywhere else to begin? Clear, healthy and open communication is the beating heart of every relationship. That makes it even more important in team settings, where there can be dozens of different relationships to manage all at once. Ensuring everyone feels safe and comfortable to speak up, share opinions, offer criticism, and take risks can feel like something you have to constantly work on. That’s why you should establish a framework for effective workplace communication. Here’s what this should involve:
- Set your communication pathways. Team members should know not only how they should communicate with each other, but where and when. Define these parameters, setting down in writing when something should be said in person versus an email or chat. Make sure there is a clear consensus to make it more likely that everyone abides by these rules.
- Make specificity a requirement. Ambiguity is the enemy of clear communication. Despite this, it can often creep in when projects get complex or workloads start to build up. Prevent this by putting in place measures that ensure specificity. For example, you could tell team members to always ask what “done” looks like when they get assigned a task. This will help ensure they get the details they need.
- Create an open and inclusive environment. A big part of effective communication is making sure everyone who wants to speak up feels comfortable doing so. If not, then you may not be hearing from a large portion of your team. Get this done by opening up multiple paths of communication in order to accommodate different styles, asking for questions at every meeting, and promoting out-of-the-box thinking.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for feedback. Prodding your team members to give each other feedback can help improve communication in two ways. Most obviously, it will encourage greater transparency throughout the workplace. Employees and managers will be equally accountable. Perhaps more importantly, it will also show that everyone’s voice matters, regardless of their position. That can help make it easier for everyone to open up.
2. Cultivate a strong team culture.
A strong team culture is whatever helps individual employees do their best work. While the details of this culture may look different from team to team, it can generally be defined as one that is positive, supportive, and productive – all of which are key aspects of team synergy.
So what can you do to build a strong team dynamic? Some good places for you to begin include:
- Set a positive example: The stated values of a company shouldn’t just be ideals. You should demonstrate them by showing respect, fairness, trust, and whatever other qualities your company is striving toward.
- Show gratitude: This means recognizing the contributions and successes of both individual contributors and the entire team. Celebrating wins like this is an easy way to make people feel valued.
- Stay curious: You shouldn’t wait for other people to tell you what needs to be fixed. Initiate conversations in order to understand what is missing from the organizational culture — or to learn how it has gone astray.
- Prioritize psychological safety: This is a concept that describes an environment where people are comfortable taking risks and speaking their minds. There are a number of strategies you can do to promote this, such as remaining authentic and vulnerable, celebrating both good and bad ideas, and using play to guide your team.
3. Set clear objectives.
Ensuring everyone can work together seamlessly isn’t possible if no one can agree on what it is they’re working toward. This is what makes setting a shared vision and goals so vital. Not only does it help give them a clear sense of purpose, it also aligns your team so that they can more easily share resources and support each other’s work.
But in order to set clear and successful objectives, you’ll have to first think critically about what you want to achieve. Here are a few steps to help you do that:
- Know the big picture: Begin by making sure you have a clear understanding of your organization’s mission, as well as short- and long-term strategic objectives. This will help inform your team’s goals.
- Work inclusively to get buy-in: As you develop common goals and strategies for executing them, work closely alongside each of your team members in order to promote ownership and make them more committed to achieving them.
- Set SMART goals: The SMART system can help make your goals more Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In turn, this will make them easier to understand and give your team a clearer sense of direction.
- Review your goals: Achieving team synergy will require you to remain flexible. That means you should be regularly reviewing and adjusting your goals so that they stay clear, effective, and relevant.
4. Conduct regular team assessments.
A big part of achieving team synergy is when each team member can not only lean into their strengths, but also rely on others for tasks they may not be as good at. While titles and roles will play a part in everyone’s responsibilities, individual strengths should be just as important. After all, if a project manager just so happens to be knowledgeable about video editing, for instance, why not take advantage of this? You may never know where your best strengths lie.
Unfortunately, finding out can be difficult. Individuals are notoriously bad at assessing their own strengths and weaknesses. And even if they aren’t, they may be reluctant to call themselves out. That’s why it’s a good thing there are plenty of assessment tools that can do it for you. These can come in the form of software solutions, such as survey applications that allow you to send out questions that help you determine team strengths. Or apply behavioral, which afford insights into team dynamics through tools such as PI Design.
Whatever you choose, it’s important to build a better understanding of what each person on your team can do, regardless of their role. This way, you’ll know exactly who you should call out in order to get a task done or a project over the finish line. And that’s one more step toward team synergy.