Team Synergy: The Catalyst for Great Performance

 In Team Health Check, Teams In Motion

If you think a great team is easily built by assembling only the best of the best individuals, you are missing a big part of the puzzle of team effectiveness.  Team membership, while important, is only a part of the equation.  Research shows that the individuals on the team and the characteristics of the team leader both play a part in predicting team performance.  However, the impact of individuals and leaders is significantly moderated by the processes by which the team operates123.

In other words, getting all the right members and the best team leader is necessary, but not sufficient.  If the team is unable achieve a level of synergy, you will NOT realize the outcomes you need in terms of performance:  goal achievement, innovative solutions, implemented decisions, and business results.

What is Synergy?

The concept of ‘synergy’ has its roots in chemistry.  Some really smart scientists figured out that when you separate the ‘ingredients’ of a complex compound, say water for instance, the parts do not act or look anything like the combination.  In other words, when you separate the Hydrogen (H2) from the Oxygen (O), you no longer have water or anything that looks like water.  It’s like having all of the ingredients to make a cake, but no one available to mix and bake to get to get to the best part!

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” –Aristotle

Synergy on Teams

The same thing can be said for the best teams.  The collective performance of a team of experts is unpredictable if you only consider the individuals on the team.  A definition of synergy that I like for teams comes from Human Synergistics International.  In their Subarctic Survival activity leader’s guide (2012), they define synergy as follows:

“When the interactive efforts of two or more people have a greater impact than the sum of their independent efforts.”

A wise colleague of mine once said ‘even when the last person to speak is the one who generates the idea we go with… it is NOT their idea; their idea is simply the final thought added to a robust conversation or rigorous debate that had many, many ideas that led to that final comment.  That’s what we want from our teams – a group of experts who act like an expert team to generate innovative solutions to complex problems.Isn’t that why we form teams in the first place – to COMBINE the expertise of individuals to get to the best place?

So, how do you get there from here?

Know what really makes a team great

Well, first you must know what team processes are proven to lead to results.  Theresearch literature has identified many team processes that are clearly linked to results.  Some popular literature and books on teams address some of these team processes; and some characteristics of great teams that we see in print are not necessarily proven to be true by data-driven research.  To address the research, we conducted deep literature reviews and reflected our findings into a model of what Experts Team do, based on the research, to get productivity, innovation and results.

Know where the team is today

Then, you need a way to objectively measure where your team is today on each of these dimensions.  When you choose a team assessment instrument, make sure the assessment passes two important tests:  first, is the assessment truly focused on the team and team processes (versus the styles of individuals)? Second, has the assessment been validated via rigorous statistical processes?  (Click here for more information about the Teams in Motion Team Health Check that passes both tests!)

Create a and execute a team development plan

Once you know the areas that a specific team needs to work on, you can create a development plan, invest in teaching and coaching for the team and team leader, and track progress.  All of the concepts of teamwork and team processes are simple to understand.  But, if they were easy to execute, we would have many more expert teams in the work world!

“No one can whistle a symphony; it takes an orchestra to play it.” –H.E. Luccock


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