This series is about the impact synergistic working relationships have on the outcomes of organizational change.

Before people can create and maintain synergistic relationships, two things must occur:

  • They must be willing to engage this way with others
  • They must demonstrate the abilities associated with a four-phase model: Interacting, Appreciative Understanding, Integrating, and Implementing[1]

The Willingness to Engage—A Prerequisite for Synergy

Dramatic change brings to the surface many divergent views about the direction of the transition and how it should unfold. Healthy nonconformity and oppositional thinking are essential aspects of the creative process when breakthrough problem solving and innovation is called for. However, contending with different perspectives, if not managed properly, can also be energy draining and counterproductive. It is clearly easier sometimes to avoid, ignore, or smooth over contrasting opinions (particularly when they are strongly held). Why is it then, that under the right conditions, people do just the opposite and willingly surface— even celebrate—their differences? The motivation to pursue, rather than circumvent, divergent opinions stems from people who share three views:

  • The seriousness of the circumstances they face
  • Their common goal(s)
  • A sense of interdependence with each other

Synergistic relationships are not easy to develop and maintain. As a result, most people are willing to invest what’s needed only if a significant positive upside can be gained and/or a negative downside avoided. If this is the case, a common goal can set direction. When individuals and/or groups share the same desired outcome, their energies and actions can become powerfully focused on the activities necessary to achieve that result. When a common goal is at the center of committed action, fewer resources are wasted on hidden agendas or activities inconsistent with realizing the goal.

As important as the sharing of common goals is, however, it is insufficient by itself to generate synergy. Interdependence is also needed to set the stage for meaningful unified action. People involved in synergistic working relationships recognize that their goals cannot be achieved without key contributions from all those playing critical roles. Those who are unwilling to acknowledge this, and act independently, represent a significant detriment to synergistic results.

A willingness to contribute to synergy is reflected in what can be called a “foxhole[2] relationship—a situation where two or more people share a sense of urgency about the situation they are facing. They are invested in achieving a common goal and they must rely on each other to accomplish it. For dramatic transformative change to take place, a foxhole mindset must exist among sponsors, agents, and targets, as well as between the change practitioner and the sponsor he or she serves.

The willingness (motivation) to work with others sets the stage for the actions needed to achieve the synergistic advantage. Those involved in major endeavors must  also demonstrate specific abilities related to how they develop their ideas and implement their action plans.

The Ability to Engage—The Four Phases of Synergy

The synergistic process is distinguished by four skill sets:

  • Interacting: Synergistic communication occurs when diverse perspectives, ideas, meanings, attitudes, feelings, and values are expressed and received openly and honestly in a supportive environment.
  • Appreciative Understanding: This is a nurturing atmosphere characterized by people who recognize and value their distinct frames of reference regarding the task at hand.
  • Integrating: Only when appreciative understanding is established can individuals seek ways to merge or combine their separate views into mutually supportive patterns for thinking and acting. It is during this integration phase that individuals invent and experiment with creative ways to move beyond their current thinking.
  • Implementing: Merely finding innovative approaches to integrate various viewpoints is not enough. It is only through active planning, goal setting, discipline, and consistent application of various change facilitating methods that a transition can be successfully achieved. Without a structured implementation plan, the likelihood is low that a synergistic advantage will occur.

Although I mentioned in the first post that many change practitioners lack a solid grasp of the conditions that promote synergy, the necessary components are actually all around us most of the time. It’s just that, to the untrained eye, it’s not always easy to see the exponential impact that results when they are combined properly. In this regard, I really have nothing new to offer about the components when seen separately. We are used to seeing each skill set in its own right, but it is when they are sequenced—as I’ll outline here—that they build on each other and merge into a unique and powerful source of energy and creativity. This is when synergy unfolds.

I’ll run the risk of detailing some familiar ground around the separate components as the series progresses, but this is necessary to open a new perspective on two key focal points:

  • The order and composition of the building blocks of synergy
  • Their intertwined relationship, which produces the 1 + 1 > 2 outcomes

The table below outlines what is necessary for key players to generate a synergistically implemented change. I will discuss each of the phases in more detail in the posts to follow.


Next: Build synergy by helping team members communicate.

Go to the beginning of the series.

[1]These four steps were first used by Henry Nelson Wieman in his book describing the creative process, Man’s Ultimate Commitment, University Press of America, Inc., 1991.

[2] Military research during the Vietnam War era found reduced racial conflict among African-American and white soldiers when those soldiers had to rely upon one another in conflict situations, such as being in a foxhole facing the enemy. When their mutual defense necessitated cooperation, racial discord often vanished, as least as long as the urgency of the situation lasted. They shared a common goal (survival), and they knew that without genuine cooperation (interdependence) they would not achieve that goal.