Saturday, July 25, 2009

Synergy - Part II

Wearing the same shirt does not make you a team.
-- Buchholz and Roth

During the time I was serving as a trainer at the Army's National Training Center, the Army formed a new combat organization within its fighting Brigades – the Special Troops Battalion (STB). Created by joining signal, intelligence, engineer, military police, and other specialized units under a common command, this new team's leaders faced a daunting task - build a team of teams out of these diverse functions; combine these dissimilar units into a cohesive, fighting organization – and make them better than when they operated independently. The mission – create synergy.

Many STB team members were challenged however, to embrace the promise of this new organization. They were encumbered by memories of life as independent entities. They could not yet comprehend the advantage of replacing independence with interdependence. They did not know the potential greatness of the new team. They had not yet seen the value of working, fighting, and succeeding – together.

STB leaders quickly realized that it took more than a common headquarters for combat units to fight as a team. Commanders quickly recognized that t-shirts and logos did not create synergy. Accomplished team builders know that much more is required. Successful mergers and acquisitions, in the military or in business, do not happen by themselves. Nope…that’s the leader’s job.

Synergy can be reduced to a simple math equation: 1+1+1>3. The whole is made greater than the sum of the parts. Leadership is the action verb (made greater) that enables this possibility. Making teams better, adding value, is the role of the leader. That makes it Leader Business.
As I indicated before, it was in the "heat of battle" at the Army's National Training Center that I learned these critical elements for creating synergy (another math equation!) --

Synergy =
Common vision and goals +
Big TEAM, little me +
Interdependence +

Common vision. Common goals.

Leaders must create the common purpose for which the team will fight – together. Groups, no matter how mature, must have a reason for working together that makes sense to all team members. Without a shared vision, organizational tendencies are to form stovepipes, build up barriers, and focus on themselves.

Synergy comes from teams and team members who are truly committed to working together. Leaders must forge the overarching organizational vision that describes the intended end state. Whether through mergers and acquisitions or when brought about by combining functions within existing organizations, the tendency will be for teammates to believe that “it was working fine before the change.” What they cannot know and what leadership must uniquely transmit is – “compared to what?”

Leaders provide the vision of how great the team can be under these new conditions. As is always the case with “the vision thing,” leaders must believe it themselves and then share it (frequently…and with passion), first with internal customers (get your team to believe) and then with everyone else.

Recently, I led my own team through a major transformation. The reasons NOT to change were plentiful: we were doing well, reaching all of our goals; we would lose our brand identity through the proposed changes; and the new organization would be so dysfunctional given the diversity of skills on the future team that the product would be of lesser quality.

I heard it from all sides and struggled personally and professionally with the pending change. But all issues paled in comparison to the importance of providing the best service to our customers. A shared vision that recognized that it was about those whom we served, not about us, was the reality we needed to embrace.

Discussions about how we would work together, about how we could be a better team and better serve our customers, enabled by the strength of our new diversity, and about how we could each grow, personally and professionally, quickly took hold within the organization. We became a better team – and our customers were better for it. It started with a vision.

BIG TEAM – little me.

Synergy is created when team members subordinate their personal or small unit goals to those of the bigger team. They must have the belief and understanding that they are successful only if the team is successful. The old way of doing business must be replaced with a new way – better and fully integrated into the higher organization.

Emphasize team goals at every opportunity. Use team rewards to highlight the benefits of working together. Reward behaviors that demonstrate the desired corporate mindset.

Leaders must balance the need to work as a team while still sustaining the competitiveness that drives subordinate teams to do their best? Sales teams need to push each other for the big goals. But the top prize is reserved for when the company achieves its intended results. Teachers should strive for individual recognition – yet take greatest satisfaction in their school’s “Exemplary” status.

Synergy is achieved by teammates who seek ways to do their best while striving to make each other better. Streamlined processes and cost savings are realized by team members who look outside themselves to help others. Information and lessons learned are shared. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


Synergy is only made possible through team members who replace independence with the newness of interdependence. Organizations whose members are mutually dependent on each other’s unique skills, experiences, and capabilities are more inclined to work together toward a common, higher goal. They are also less inclined to grow in size and scope versus leveraging unused capacity elsewhere in the organization.

The Department of Defense is working hard to force its services to embrace interdependence, a concept known as “jointness.” Does the artillery need a new howitzer when aviation – Army, Navy, or Air Force - can service those same targets with existing weapon systems? Does the Army need more bomb disposal personnel when the Navy has world class capabilities available to do this mission? Difficult concepts with high stakes, interdependence is the only way to get the most out of a military force with as many commitments as ours.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is another example of a large government organization wrestling with the need to create interdependence. Current budgets no longer afford each regional organization to create fiefdoms known as “districts” with full functionality whose sole focus is internal - district goals and district customers.

Now, regional and national centers of expertise are available to each Army Corps district, with designs for projects in one district completed by teams with unique capabilities in another. Business processes have been modified to reflect the elimination of stovepipes and local behavior. Not only does interdependence make better business sense, it produces a better product and leads to a more satisfied customer. The Army Corps is working hard to do more – better – with less. That is synergy.

Leaders must grow interdependent organizations who share everything – resources, customers, skills, people, and facilities. It is only in doing so that the new organization is made greater than the sum of its parts.

Identify unused capacity and determine how it can be applied to help the team. Cross level resources and capabilities between subordinate teams to meet higher level goals. Build bridges and bonds between mutually dependent sub-organizations that will create an effect that exceeds what could be done individually.


Synergy is only realized when the team is literally, measurably, actually made greater. The parts must function together to make a better product – cheaper, faster, more sustainable, more reliable, safer…better. True synergy must result in increased revenue or higher market share. Economies of scale must be realized. Customers, internal and external, must see progress.

Teams do well what a leader measures. Develop metrics for the team and for each subordinate organization that can be used for mutual accountability. Create an environment where subordinates are free to “look outside their cubicles” while holding each other accountable for meaningful, quantifiable advancement.

Team members must be accountable to one another to ensure a better team. This is only possible when they understand each other and appreciate how they each uniquely contribute to their success - and the accomplishment of team goals.

Education programs such as new employee orientation and formal and informal professional development help grow teammates who understand the team of teams. Peer reviews provide perspective on subordinates who work well within the team concept. Sharing best practices across functional areas will help make each component of the whole better than if it were operating separately.

Subordinates who understand that their success is only enabled by the success of every team member will begin to think outside themselves to help, and hold accountable, others. Salesmen will give constructive feedback to manufacturing partners. Marketers will interact with operations folks like never before. Peers and subordinate organizations that formerly had little interaction will develop productive, mutually beneficial relationships.

Nope...T-shirts won't make a team. Without common vision, interdependence, accountability, and the subordinating of self to something bigger, 1+1+1 will equal 3 (or less). Leadership is required to add value to this equation and to make individuals function as a TEAM. That makes creating synergy...Leader Business.

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