When I use the phrase “synergy in the workplace”, a few things may have run through your head. I’m willing to bet that at least a few of you believe that I’m referring to some new-age, mystical thing. Perhaps you imagined several suited people in an office taking breaks from the work to sit on the floor and practise yoga. To improve their “synergy”, whatever that means. Sounds like energy, right? Is it just a mystical or spiritual form of that?
You’ve probably guessed by now that that’s not what I mean at all. So what is synergy, exactly? Synergy is the word used to describe the phenomena in which two or more things interact to become greater than the sum of their parts. It’s a “two plus two equals five” kind of deal, if you can forget all the terrifying 1984 implications of that particular saying.
Lindsay and Kim, wizards of business synergy
In terms of business, let’s say we have one worker. We’ll call them something nice and gender-neutral. Lindsay. Lindsay can do quite a lot of work on their own. Let’s say the business is game development. Lindsay is a great coder with a little bit of art knowledge. After a nine-hour day, Lindsay has finished two levels of the video game they’re working on. Now let’s introduce Kim. Kim is an absolute wizard when it comes to graphics and art. They can even code a little. In a nine-hour day, they can complete one and a half levels.
Now let’s put the two together. Everyday math would tell us that they will finish three and a half levels in a shared space of nine hours. But we’re not in the realm of boring, regular math. We’re talking about synergy. What happens here is that the two are able to interact and share resources in a specific and special way. They can actually complete five levels together in those nine hours. And they probably didn’t do any new-age yoga stuff at all. See what I mean by “greater than the sum of their parts”? That is what synergy is.
How do I get me some of that synergy?
Ah, so I’ve sold you on this whole synergy thing, right? The problem with workplace synergy is that you can’t just trigger it using great technology and strong communication. Understand that now. You can’t exactly buy good synergy. What you need as a good starting point is what pretty much any business needs to maximise efficiency. And that’s employees who work well together.
This isn’t just as simple as not hiring the guy who insulted everyone during his interview and was quite clearly not going to be great to work with. What is needed from you is a close inspection of how your employees work together. And I’m not just talking about their friendly communication. You can’t just look over at a pair or a group, see them giggling and smiling and assume everything is okay. In fact, that could even be a sign that things aren’t going perfectly. You need to review the actual work these employees are producing together. Sure, they may be able enjoy a joke together. But can the two actually produce more when working together than they can when they’re working separately?
Of course, when you look at it like this, you can see what a tremendous task it is to maximise office synergy. This would require you to observe the interactions between everyone. Every single possible employee combination would have to have researched in order to come up with the most efficient work plan. This is going to take a long time. This is why you need to keep an eye on these things as early as possible. If you’re starting up a business, you’re in luck here. Starting with a relatively small number of employees, you can see all the combinations of people and see who exactly works together best. Over a long period, you’ll know exactly who to pair up with who.
What is the opposite of synergy? It’s called dyssynergy, or dyssynergia. Just look at those words. They’re not even nice to say. In fact, the term is used more appropriately in medicine, when two parts of your body don’t work together, causing problems for the entire body. Surely you don’t want dyssynergia in your workplace? (I almost called this article How to get avoid dyssynergia in the workplace, but who the heck would have clicked on that?) If there’s an employee who is impossible to work with, then they’re a bad apple. And you need to get rid of bad apples. If you do decide to let them go, don’t say they’re “disrupting the office synergy”, though. Just tell them straight up that they’re not great to work with.
Can I boost synergy with fancy technology?
I did say earlier that technology can only go so far in assisting business synergy. But you do need to have the right technology in your office in order to get these combined workforces to collaborate efficiently.
One of the big modern crazes when it comes to business tech is cloud computing. Most companies these days are working with it. The benefits of having everyone work in the cloud and numerous and tremendous. Let’s go way back to the days before cloud computing. Let’s say there’s a document that several people in your office need to work on simultaneously. Back in the day, this was a massive hassle. Chances are you couldn’t all edit it or even access it at the same time. You had to keep separate local files. Then you’d end up with several version of the same document. Then someone would have to bring them all together and edit it together into something coherent. But with modern cloud computing, sharing and editing these documents collaboratively is easy. People can even access files in the cloud from mobile devices if need be. If you want everyone on the same path with potent business synergy coursing through their veins, you’ll need cloud storage. You can browse around CMIT Solutions for these services.
You’re also going to need a way for people to communicate efficiently. Are your employees still having to travel around the office in order to speak to other employees? I’m assuming not; you most likely have email. But email doesn’t quite cut it these days. Instant messaging is an absolute must in the modern office. You don’t even need a specialised business solution for this. Everyone in your office can sign up for Skype and install it. By setting up one-on-one chats as well as group chats, you can make sure the right information is always going to the right people. After all, communication is still key if you want your office to be as productive as possible. Why else would I have suggested getting rid of the bad apples earlier? Skype will also allow video calling if people have to work remotely and you have to set up a formal meeting.
The best page is the same page
Of course, none of this is going to mean much if your employees aren’t all on the same page. I’ve been in several offices in which pretty much all the practises I’ve outlined above were in place. But still there were instances in which employees weren’t working quite in sync with one another. This was largely less to do with the employees themselves and their ability to work together. It was, in fact, more to do with how the employers communicated information to them.
An employer, or the manager of a particular team, should have a solid plan in mind. How much of this plan has been outlined to the rest of the team? Do the team know what the long-term goals are as well as the short-term ones? You need to remember that the long-term goals will affect the short-term goals and vice versa. This is why I would suggest making sure that as many employees as possible are actively involved the planning process itself.
Once your team have collaborated on a strong plan, you need to keep the subsequent workflow transparent. If need be, everyone should know what another employee is working on and how it may affect their work. Even if two employees work in different departments, one not completing a particular task on time could block the work of the other. The best way to go about this is to be transparent with project management. Management software like Trello can keep all the tasks that are relevant to the project visible and interactive. An employee can see exactly what tasks relate to the task they’re currently doing and what implications that holds for their on workflow.
Frequent team meetings are also imperative. In fact, there are entire business methodologies that dictate the need for all of these things. If you work in software development, for example, the Agile methodology is all about making sure everyone is on the same page. With ten-minute team meetings every morning and transparent workflows, the key is to boost synergy. And when synergy is boosted, so is productivity.