Definition of Synergy



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A great management word. We love to talk about synergies. It is a super word, hard and scientific. It gives the impression that we know what we are doing. That we are in control.

Synergy: the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts

What drives synergy?

If synergy is creating more than the sum of the parts, then you can’t create it by making the parts better.  A strategy that focuses on centres of excellence (creating the best department) and performance management (striving for the best people) won’t create synergy.  By definition, you still only end up with the sum of the parts, no matter how good the parts are.

Synergy originates from the interactions between the parts. The interaction is the extra bit you get when you put two parts together. Synergy comes from interactions, it can’t be caused by anything else.

How do you create positive interactions?

Now the concept isn’t so hard and scientific, you can’t see or touch interactions. Some people are oblivious to them. The way to create positive interactions is soft and emotional.  It is all — let’s be honest — a little brown sandal.

  • To get positive interactions have a shared goal
  • To get positive interactions show progress toward the goal
  • To get positive interactions match people’s strengths and weaknesses
  • To get positive interactions communicate
  • To get positive interactions create trust

It is all a bit hippy. It is hard to put your finger on. It is nebulous. Positive interactions are hard to define, hard to measure, hard to quantify and hard to create.

Let’s spin the question on its head

What is the opposite of synergy? I couldn’t find the word for that.  Just a handful of suggestions: antinergy, lessergy, obsgy or unergy.

The best antonym I found for synergy was “synergy”.  Exactly the same word, but whispered behind the backs of the management team with a shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile.

“Synergy”: the creation of a whole that is less than the sum of the parts

Once again “synergy” can only come from the interaction between the parts, negative interactions.

How do you create negative interactions?

Anybody who has worked in a large organisation knows all about this. It is easy to define:

  • To get negative interactions write conflicting objectives
  • To get negative interactions set people against each other
  • To get negative interactions create jealousy
  • To get negative interactions start blaming people
  • To get negative interactions stop communication

Negative interactions are so much easier to generate. You just need to screw your staff over a little.

Whatever your goal…

Synergy or “synergy”, the way to create it is via interactions.

Interactions that are intangible and impossible to see.

What are the interactions like where you work?  Positive or negative?

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
~ Peter F. Drucker

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of James Lawther – View the original post

Published On: 9th May 2016 - Last modified: 12th Feb 2019
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