During my student teaching stint, I was in an elementary classroom “half-sitting” on a ten-inch-wide plastic student chair.  On the whiteboard at the front of the class was written a word.  The young instructor in a very Zen voice said “now girls and boys, what is this word?”

The juvenile chorus sang out “Synergy!”

The educator chimed, “And what does it mean?”

The students replied, “It means one plus one equals three!”

This was the first time I had ever heard the word.  What was going on? And why should we too sing out for synergy?



We’ve all been asked to participate as a team at some point in our lives. We entertain ourselves by watching teams play sports.  As business leaders, we may marvel at the post-game revelry, bordering on a sort of brotherhood, and we may wonder how do they do it? Why can’t we have that in our company?

Sports teams have a common goal.  So do we as a business…right?  Sure, we may feel like we are a high-functioning team when everything is going well, but what about when it isn’t? It’s easy to point fingers and say “his ego gets in the way,” or “her department is more important to her than our goals as a company.”  And as a result, we go on functioning loosely as a team, attending meetings and strategy sessions, bobbing our heads up and down, and setting goals, but there exists only an artificial harmony.  The challenge is that in order to achieve our goals, an authentic team environment is what is going to drive success. We all have personal goals, and it is important to understand that the people with whom we work with are critical to the achievement of those goals.  So, how do we improve alignment and create an environment like that of a winning sports franchise? It comes down to a matter of familiarity and trust.

How can you successfully work with someone you don’t even know?

Before you shift uncomfortably in your seat, anticipating that I’m going to advocate for falling backwards into each other arms, rest assured I’m not. However, creating an environment of familiarity and trust is a goal that needs our attention. Why is that? One important reason is that with a lack of familiarity with our team members, we’ll hesitate to debate.  We don’t want to rock the boat. “Keep the peace, go back to my job, and just do the best I can” you might say to yourself after a particularly tense and amorphous team meeting.

Yet, what we know about the brain and how we as humans connect, we debate with and trust those whom we know.  In Patrick Lencioni’s work The Five Dysfunctions of a Team—A Leadership Fable, the protagonist has her leadership team together answer the following non intrusive personal questions:

What is your hometown?

How many kids in your family?

Any interesting childhood hobbies?

What was your biggest challenge growing up?

What was your first job?

What benefit is there in having team members answer these?  All of sudden we’re working with people, real people, with authentic lives and experiences.  Dominic is no longer just a team leader; he’s a guy with some serious swimming abilities, shown by his experience as a lifeguard. With knowledge, comfort levels heighten.  I’m not just talking with someone who’s responsible for a certain aspect of production;  I’m communicating and working with someone with whom I feel comfortable enough to ask why he chose a certain tack with product development over another method that I might have thought more successful.  Yes, there will be disagreements and a few tense moments.  But, even in our personal relationships, these are not moments to be avoided at all costs.  Mature people can debate and grow from the experience.



What if I’m just okay with the artificial harmony?

Here’s why you shouldn’t be okay with it. You’ll never have genuine unity if team members don’t feel they’ve been legitimately heard. Consequently, they won’t fully support the final decision because they’ll always be some lingering doubt, “If we had just tried it my way…” Most of us who find ourselves in leadership positions got there as a result of working well with others.  We know that we’re not always going to get our way, and the success of the whole operation is more important than all of our needs and wants being granted.  Yet, we still have a need to be “heard.”  The added value of this is that if there is a need to change direction from the initial agreed-upon path, the discarded ideas may once again rise to the surface, this time with more clarity.

Once trust is established, goals can be set with higher involvement and discussion.  The “I & me” will yield to the “we and us.” The drive to seek out recognition from the crowd will transition to focusing on the overall success of the team.  Rather than have a long list of brainstormed goals, metrics can be set by mutually condensing and prioritizing results.  Your people will no longer be a 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, or worse yet, 2.  Your team will interact and cooperate to produce a greater effect than the sum of its people.

At RightMind, we often work with our clients to apply the science behind human interaction into their sales and marketing environment. This science also governs the relationship between leaders and their teams and the individuals on their team. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help reinforce your team dynamic and culture, please contact us at info@rightmindinc.com or through our website at www.rightmindinc.com.

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