I don’t know where you are with sports. You may be an ‘Oh, I didn’t catch the game’ type or a dyed-in-the-wool fanatic who wears the home team’s jersey on game days, but there is no denying that we are a world fascinated by sports. The euphoria of victory, the agony of defeat, the thrill in (to quote a Survivor song I hope you all know) ‘rising up to the challenge of our rival…’. From the importance of preparation and hard work, the ability to withstand competition, to the necessity of collaboration and communication, the fundamentals of sports are present in many aspects of our lives, and there’s a reason why we use so many sports metaphors and analogies when we talk about how we’d ideally like things to operate.
Individuals can be exceptional; of this, there is no doubt. A superstar can exist in any group and in any organization. Sometimes their contribution alone can elevate a team and win the game. An individual contributor can exceed their goals and, in doing so, can compensate for an underperformer and still reach team targets. A strong, dedicated performer is an asset to any organization, and win or lose, above or below target, their efforts can’t be minimized.
The team dynamic, however, is an entirely different force. It wins sports games, secures and keeps clients in business, and hits metrics on teams. Everyone plays a position, everyone on that team is aware of the position’s parameters, and even though the goal is a team victory, everyone is responsible for their individual stats and performance. While there are always off-nights, a coalesced team increases the likelihood of continued successful outcomes.
Synergy. I have no idea when or why the word ‘synergy’ became the Voldemort of the business world. A collaborative effort of individual entities that achieve an outcome greater than what would have been achievable on their own. Every player on your squad gives 110%, and the results are not only good for numbers and business but for cohesiveness and morale. It’s exactly what you want when you want to build a high-performing team – it’s the goal. People complain that synergy is an overused buzzword, which is unfortunate because I believe it’s still the best word to describe itself.
After many years of building and leading high-performing teams, I recently founded my own consulting firm. Working alone (initially), I desperately missed the synergy that teams generate. The constant back and forth, the challenge to my ideas and opinions – the broader view that can only come when multiple voices work together to achieve a goal. It made us a phenomenal team that always exceeded targets, and I quickly realized how much I wanted that dynamic in my new endeavor. I created environments where I could mimic that synergy.
In so doing, I utilized the help of a good friend, one with whom I’d shared many professional lives – in one, I was her boss. In another, she was interviewing me. She said something to me once that stuck with me for years – “You are the best at accomplishing things through others.” Initially, that didn’t hit my ears well. I interpreted it as a very nice way to say that I was bossy and demanding, and I made others do things I couldn’t do myself. As I sat with it, though, I realized that she gave me the greatest compliment I’d ever had. She told me that I am so bought into the value of everyone’s contributions and so sold on the fact that everyone had something of value to offer that I succeed in getting the best out of team members individually and collectively. My belief in the synergy of team dynamics made the team perform better.
I am so proud of my friend’s observation that day. I still believe in that team dynamic. Make sure everyone knows and understands their role and the part they play. Stress to them their significance – how what they do contributes to the whole. Empower their voices, their talents, and their experiences. Encourage true collaboration. Five people working in their silos might produce good results, but five people achieving together creates a winning culture.
Maybe… even a championship.