What a Synergist Is and Why You Should Care

Excerpt from “The Synergist” by Les McKeown (Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 2012).

By Les McKeown

If you’re involved with any group of people who are trying to achieve common goals—whether by leading a Fortune 500 company or volunteering part-time at a kid’s soccer league—you soon become acutely aware that those goals will be achieved only through the work of the people in the group.

Put simply, organizations don’t succeed in and of themselves—they succeed only through individuals,working in groups and teams.

Groups and teams lie at the heart of every successful enterprise—in fact, they arethe heart of a successful enterprise. Walk the halls of any organization, large or small, and you’ll see huddles of two or more people everywhere, interacting formally and informally; face to face and virtually; meeting in conference rooms and hallways; communicating by e-mail, phone, Web conference, social media and text messages, even occasionally by pen and paper.

In the best—and most successful—organizations, it’s these interactions between individuals that together form a vital bridge between the organization’s over-arching vision, and the day-to-day actions required to realize that vision. From these multifaceted human interactions spring the ideas, decisions, plans, strategies, and tactics necessary to move the organization forward to success.

In the worst—and least successful—organizations, these same interactions between individuals produce stress, indecision, confusion, uncertainty, and distrust, frustrating the organization’s goal of realizing its vision, and draining the enthusiasm, commitment, and direction of everyone involved.

For many organizations—perhaps even the one you work with—each day brings a mix of each. Some interactions gel and produce a profitable, positive result, while others gridlock or stall, producing little or nothing of actionable value.

Yet for everyorganization, the difference between the two is by far the single most important factor in determining whether the enterprise succeeds or fails. If you can ensure that when your people interact they are effective and deliver the goods, you win. Watch them stutter or fail in those same interactions, and you lose.

Pass Me a Paper Clip

This simple fact—that the quality of “people interaction” is a fundamental requirement for organizational success—seems self-evident, and yet every day in organizations large and small, untold thousands—quite probably millions of group interactions take place, most of which fail to take the organization any closer to its goals. In many cases, groups meet, interact, then part—no closer to achieving their objectives than when they started.

This tide of unproductive and ineffective group interactions has a massive cost: It drains the global economy of billions of dollars a year; strangles creativity and initiative; and results in many businesses, divisions, departments, projects, groups, and teams stalling out long before they’ve even begun to realize their full potential.

On an individual level, the cost of group dysfunction is just as high: As we’ve seen, it generates inordinate levels of stress, demoralizes entire workforces, and demotivates otherwise high-performing people who would rather take a paper clip, straighten it out, and stab it in their eye than sit through another interminable, ineffectual meeting.

And it’s not only formal meetings that are caught in this seeping maw of interpersonal dysfunction. Every type of interaction—one-on-one discussions, phone calls, e-mails, water-cooler chats, performance reviews, brainstorming sessions, even the annual picnic—can become blighted by misperceptions, misunderstandings, and outright manipulation.

Most frustratingly of all for CEOs, SVPs, leaders, managers, and millions of individuals working in organizations around the globe, all of this—the expense, the personal pain, the lack of progress—repeats every single day.

Why Can’t I Break This Cycle?

Not surprisingly, this frustrating, repeating cycle of dysfunction has produced an avalanche of resources, purportedly designed to help groups and teams be more effective. Books, workshops, conferences, assessments, quizzes, coaching—you name it, there’s a tool of some sort designed to make group interactions work harmoniously and effectively.

Here’s a newsflash: They almost never work. You’ll know this if you’ve ever been part of a group that has worked through a “team-improvement” process. The pattern is predictable: A group or team isn’t firing on all cylinders, so everyone gets packed off to a workshop or conference, or is given a book and study guide and told to work through it together. Some do so excitedly and with engagement, while others comply grimly and in silent (or not-so-silent) protest. The process can be painful and disruptive. The result? After everyone completes the program, the team enjoys a short period of brittle improvement before everyone returns to their previous positions and attitudes.

The reason most group- and team-improvement programs fail to produce permanent long-term change is simple: It’s because they address the symptomsof group dysfunction (distrust, poor communication, fear of change, to name just a few) rather than the root cause. In fact, in many cases, symptoms are incorrectly labeled as root causes. Take “distrust” as an example—a factor many team improvement programs concentrate on. Distrust doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it always has a root cause—there’s always a reason (valid or not) one team member distrusts another. Trying to eliminate distrust without dealing with the underlying root cause of that distrust is like filling up your gas tank when the car’s tires are punctured: It might be worth doing, but it isn’t going to fix your problem.

Making an End Run Around the Symptoms

As I’ll show in this book, the single, most basic difference between an ineffective group interaction and a highly productive one lies in the existence of a single component—a natural, uncomplicated, and easily introduced component—the role of the Synergist.

Introducing the Synergist role to your people interactions can produce a dramatic, profound, and lasting effect precisely because it blows past the lengthy and complex list of all possible symptoms of team and group dysfunction, and instead concentrates on just one thing: the single root cause of team and group dysfunction.

Excerpt from” The Synergist” by Les McKeown. Copyright © 2012 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd. For more information, visit http://www.predictablesuccess.com/books/the-synergist/

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company that advised on the creation and growth of hundreds more organizations worldwide. Since relocating from his native Ireland to the U.S. in 1998, McKeown advises CEOs and senior leaders of organizations on how to achieve scalable, sustainable growth. His clients include Harvard University, American Express, T-Mobile, United Technologies, Pella Corporation, and Chiron.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.