Simple ways to improve team synergy and cohesion

Look up the term synergy in a dictionary and you’ll get a definition such as “the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of its parts.” Ask managers about synergy and you’ll hear about a highly desirable team dynamic.

“Team synergy, in my view, is the art of blending diverse talents, perspectives, and experiences within a team to create an unstoppable force that drives innovation and success,” says Johnpaul Manning, managing director at Insulation4Less. “It’s the magical moment when each team member’s unique strengths come together, producing results that are far greater than the sum of individual efforts.”

“For me, synergy is all about achieving a state of flow between multiple processes. Everything is continuing to work at a steady pace, and the processes that rely on others are all in sync with one another,” says Walter Lappert, president of Triad Drones. “For team synergy specifically, this applies to all people within the group, forming one big system that relies on other people but does not slow down.”

Professional growth coach Melanie R. Savelli, founder of empowerHERcareer, adds, “Team synergy is when a group of people works together in a way that makes them more effective than they would be individually. This means that they collaborate well, communicate effectively, and use each other’s strengths to achieve better outcomes. Think of it like a sports team. When the players work together seamlessly, they score more points and win more games than they would if they played individually. The same idea applies to any team, whether it’s in the workplace or elsewhere.”

Building team synergy

Little doubt exists that leaders crave team synergy. Sometimes, a group comes together and develops positive synergy rather naturally. In many (perhaps most) cases, however, synergy needs nurturing to obtain.

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How can a manager assist with team development of synergy? Consider implementing the following initiatives:

Create a shared vision

What goals would you like to achieve? Thoroughly and vividly articulate these objectives to team members. Working toward agreed-upon outcomes helps people move forward in unison rather than haphazardly with individual interpretations. A common purpose also contributes to connection and a sense of belonging.

“You must first communicate your goals and vision for the team in order to guarantee that everyone is working towards the same end result,” Lappert says. “The benefits of team synergy are maximized when a team has a clear and compelling team vision statement and mission. This works as a focus point for the group to move towards collectively, eliminating distractions and other activities that pull you away.”

Assess talents

All people have things at which they excel and others with which they struggle. Managers who know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member can better assign tasks that play to individual strengths. Get everyone together to share what each feels he or she can best contribute. Similarly, find out what each person especially enjoys doing or particularly hates. Then, distribute responsibilities accordingly to promote engagement.

“Acknowledge that everyone marches to the sound of their own drum in some way. This shouldn’t be discouraged but celebrated and highlighted; that’s what synergy is about,” says Jeremy Scott Foster, founder and CEO of TravelFreak. “Think of it as puzzle-piecing a team together. You have one member who is great at analyzing hard data but isn’t so good at creative thinking. Enter team member two that loves creative thinking but loathes looking at the numbers. This synergy makes up one whole out of tiny pieces, and everyone must gel and vibe together in order to achieve it.”

Focus on psychological safety

Great ideas and problem-solving come about when team members feel comfortable being their true selves and free to contribute. On teams with negative synergy, people hold back their opinions and hesitate to disagree with others. After all, nobody wants others to ridicule them or treat what they say as unimportant.

As the team lead, display the behavior you want to see. Seek input on decision-making. Show openness to new perspectives. When you disagree, do so respectfully.

“Team synergy begins with trust,” says Barbara Spector, CEO and president of SmartMoves, a company that specializes in talent management. “When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with one another, they are able to build vulnerability-based trust. From there they can engage in healthy conflict around a plan to move forward by hearing all ideas expressed so that they can commit to a decision that everyone can buy into. Finally, there must be a willingness to hold other team members accountable for what everyone agreed to. All of this adds up to a synergy that produces an achievable, worthwhile result.”

Communicate regularly

High-performance teams thrive on effective communication. Members use their communication skills and emotional intelligence to give and receive feedback. They realize this professional exchange of information assists in optimizing performance. They see it as integral to reaching shared goals, not as personal attacks.

By engaging in active listening, teammates give one another full attention. They ask clarifying questions, summarize to ensure understanding, and read body language to gauge feelings. Managers who graciously accept feedback, disseminate information quickly and thoroughly, and always keep the listener in mind when interacting, set the stage for an environment where others mimic their positive communication skills and interpersonal skills.

“For any team to work well together, no matter what the goal is, you need to have a solid communication foundation,” says veteran entrepreneur Chad Price. “When you prioritize communication, you train your team to be completely transparent with their needs, questions, and ideas when working on projects. Your projects will be completed faster, with fewer mistakes and more innovation.”

Provide structure

As part of effective communication, managers need to convey metrics and the scope of responsibilities. Knowing these things keeps both individuals and the group as a whole on task. They can measure progress, meet deadlines, and assume accountability. Within this arrangement, workers can take ownership of their own actions plus move the team forward to accomplish stated goals.

“Establishing clear objectives and defining each team member’s role and responsibilities helps to provide a sense of purpose and direction,” Manning notes. “This clarity allows individuals to better understand their contributions to the project, making collaboration more efficient and effective.”

Enjoy being a team

People on teams with good synergy tend to like being around one another. They create a cordial environment of mutual respect for what each person brings to the table. They take pride in teamwork and want the group to succeed. Managers can promote such feelings by recognizing team accomplishments and sharing the spotlight together.

Cohesion building activities

Leaders also can organize activities that promote cohesion.

To this end, Savelli offers these two suggestions:

Host a lunch and learn series

“One way to build team synergy is to create opportunities for team members to learn from each other. Consider hosting a regular Lunch and Learn series where team members can share their expertise and teach others about their skills or interests. For example, one team member might be an expert in a particular software program, while another might be a skilled public speaker. By sharing their knowledge, team members can learn from each other, build stronger relationships, and identify new opportunities for collaboration.”

Volunteer together

“Another way to build team synergy is to engage in activities outside of work that promote teamwork and collaboration. Consider organizing a volunteer activity where team members can work together to make a positive impact in the community. This could involve anything from volunteering at a local food bank or animal shelter to participating in a charity walk or run. Not only does this help team members feel good about giving back, but it also allows them to bond over a shared experience and work towards a common goal outside of the workplace. This can translate into stronger working relationships and increased collaboration in the office.”

Problem-solve together in an escape room. Celebrate your mixture of heritages with a potluck lunch of favorite dishes. Decorate the office together for the holidays. The more opportunities teammates get to appreciate each other’s unique contributions and how they bring a richness to the whole group, the more they will build team synergy.