There is positive and negative project team synergy. The magic and power of project teams is captured in the term “synergy,” which is derived from the Greek word sunergos: “working together.”
The difference in productivity between an average project team synergy and a turned-on, high-performing project team is not 10 percent, 20 percent, or 30 percent, but 100 percent, 200 percent, even 500 percent!
—Tom Peters, management consultant and writer
Types of project team synergy
There is positive and negative project team synergy. The essence of positive synergy can be found in the phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Conversely, negative synergy occurs when the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
Mathematically, these two states can be symbolized by the following equations:
Positive Synergy 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 10
Negative Synergy 1 + 1 +1 + 1 + 1 = 2 (or even —2)
Team synergy perhaps can best be seen on a basketball court, a soccer pitch, or a football field where teammates play as one to defeat a superior foe. Although less visible than in team sports, positive and negative synergy can also be observed and felt in the daily operations of project teams.
Here is a description from one team member I interviewed on the project team synergy idea:
Instead of operating as one big team we fractionalized into a series of subgroups. The marketing people stuck together as well as the systems guys. A lot of time was wasted gossiping and complaining about each other.
When the project started slipping behind schedule, everyone started covering their tracks and trying to pass the blame on to others. After a while we avoided direct conversation and resorted to e-mail.
Management finally pulled the plug and brought in another team to salvage the project. It was one of the worst project management experiences in my life.
This same individual fortunately was also able to recount a more positive experience:
There was a contagious excitement within the team. Sure we had our share of problems and setbacks, but we dealt with them straight on and, at times, were able to do the impossible.
We all cared about the project and looked out for each other. At the same time we challenged each other to do better. It was one of the most exciting times in my life.
The following is a set of characteristics commonly associated with high-performing teams that exhibit positive project team synergy:
- The project team shares a sense of common purpose, and each member is willing to work toward achieving project objectives.
- The project team identifies individual talents and expertise and uses them, depending on the project’s needs at any given time. At these times, the team willingly accepts the influence and leadership of the members whose skills are relevant to the immediate task.
- Roles are balanced and shared to facilitate both the accomplishment of tasks and feelings of the group cohesion and morale.
- The project team exerts energy toward problem solving rather than allowing itself to be drained by interpersonal issues or competitive struggles.
- Differences of opinion are encouraged and freely expressed.
- To encourage risk taking and creativity, mistakes are treated as opportunities for learning rather than reasons for punishment.
- Team Members set high personal standards of performance and encourage each other to realize the objectives of the project.
- Members identify with the team and consider it an important source of both professional and personal growth.
Project team synergy will drive them to become champions, create breakthrough products, exceed customer expectations, and get projects done ahead of schedule and under budget.
They are bonded together by mutual inter dependency and a common goal or vision. They trust each other and exhibit a high level of collaboration.
Project Team Development Models
Several team development models exist out there. I have covered two of them: The Five-Stage Development Model and The Punctuated Equilibrium. If you are interested follow the links and take a look at what they are all about.