Synergy in Business
At first, communication was respectful, careful, and predictable. But as we began to talk about the various alternatives, possibilities, and opportunities ahead, people became very open and authentic and simply started to think out loud. The mission statement agenda gave way to a collective free association, a spontaneous piggybacking of ideas. People were genuinely empathic as well as courageous, and we moved from mutual respect and understanding to creative synergistic communication.
Everyone could sense it. It was exciting. As it matured, we returned to the task of putting the evolved collective vision into words, each of which contains specific and committed-to meaning for each participant.
The synergistic process that led to the creation of our mission statement engraved it in all the hearts and minds of everyone there, and it has served us well as a frame of reference of what we are about, as well as what we are not about.
Another high-level synergy experience took place when I accepted an invitation to serve as the resource and discussion catalyst at the annual planning meeting of a large insurance company. Several months ahead, I met with the committee responsible to prepare for and stage the two-day meeting which was to involve all the top executives. They informed me that the traditional pattern was to identify four or five major issues through questionnaires and interviews and to have alternative proposals presented by the executives. Past meetings had been generally respectful exchanges, occasionally deteriorating into defensive win-lose ego battles. They were usually predictable, uncreative, and boring.
As I talked with the committee members about the power of synergy, they could sense its potential. With considerable trepidation, they agreed to change the pattern. They requested various executives to prepare anonymous “white papers” on each of the high priority issues and then asked all the executives to immerse themselves in these papers ahead of time in order to understand the issues and the differing points of view. They were to come to the meeting prepared to listen rather than to present, prepared to create and synergize rather than to defend and protect.
The release of creative energy was incredible. Excitement replaced boredom. People became very open to each other’s influence and generated new insights and options. By the end of the meeting, an entirely new understanding of the nature of the central company challenge evolved. The white paper proposals became obsolete. Differences were valued and transcended. A new common vision began to form.
Once people have experienced real synergy, they are never quite the same again. They know the possibility of having other such mind-expanding adventures in the future.
Often attempts are made to recreate a particular synergistic experience, but this seldom can be done.
However, the essential purpose of creative work can be recaptured. Like the Far Eastern philosophy, “We seek not to imitate the masters, rather we seek what they sought,” we seek not to imitate past creative synergistic experiences, rather we seek new ones around new and different and sometimes higher purposes.
Synergy and Communication
Synergy is exciting. Creativity is exciting. It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of truly significant gain, of significant improvement are so real that it’s worth the risk such openness entails.
After World War II, the United States commissioned David Lilienthal to head the new Atomic Energy Commission. Lilienthal brought together a group of people who were highly influential -• celebrities in their own right — disciples, as it were, of their own frames of reference.
This very diverse group of individuals had an extremely heavy agenda, and they were impatient to get at it. In addition, the press was pushing them.
But Lilienthal took several weeks to create a high Emotional Bank Account. He had these people get to know each other — their interests, their hopes, their goals, their concerns, their backgrounds, their frames of reference, their paradigms. He facilitated the kind of human interaction that creates a great bonding between people, and he was heavily criticized for taking the time to do it because it wasn’t “efficient.”
But the net result was that this group became closely knit together, very open with each other, very creative, and synergistic. The respect among the members of the commission was so high that if there was disagreement, instead of opposition and defense, there was a genuine effort to understand. The attitude was “If a person of your intelligence and competence and commitment disagrees with me, then there must be something to your disagreement that I don’t understand, and I need to understand it. You have a perspective, a frame of reference I need to look at.” Nonprotective interaction developed, and an unusual culture was born.
The following diagram illustrates how closely trust is related to different levels of communication.
The lowest level of communication coming out of low-trust situations would be characterized by defensiveness, protectiveness, and often legalistic language, which covers all the bases and spells out qualifiers and the escape clauses in the event things go sour. Such communication produces only win-lose or lose-lose. It isn’t effective — there’s no P/PC Balance — and it creates further reasons to defend and protect.
The middle position is respectful communication. This is the level where fairly mature people interact. They have respect for each other, but they want to avoid the possibility of ugly confrontations, so they communicate politely but not empathically. They might understand each other intellectually, but they really don’t deeply look at the paradigms and assumptions underlying their own opinions and become open to new possibilities.
Respectful communication works in independent situations and even in interdependent situations, but the creative possibilities are not opened up. In interdependent situations compromise is the position usually taken. Compromise means that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1/2. Both give and take. The communication isn’t defensive or protective or angry or manipulative; it is honest and genuine and respectful. But it isn’t creative or synergistic. It produces a low form of win-win.
Synergy means that 1 + 1 may equal 8, 16, or even 1,600. The synergistic position of high trust produces solutions better than any originally proposed, and all parties know it. Furthermore, they genuinely enjoy the creative enterprise. A miniculture is formed to satisfy in and of itself. Even if it is short-lived, the P/PC Balance is there.
There are some circumstances in which synergy may not be achievable and no deal isn’t viable. But even in these circumstances, the spirit of sincere trying will usually result in a more effective compromise.
Fishing for the A Third Alternative
To get a better idea of how our level of communication affects our interdependent effectiveness, envision the following scenario.
It’s vacation time, and a husband wants to take his family out to the lake country to enjoy camping and fishing. This is important to him; he’s been planning it all year. He’s made reservations at a cottage on the lake and arranged to rent a boat, and his sons are really excited about going.
His wife, however, wants to use the vacation time to visit her ailing mother some 250 miles away.
She doesn’t have the opportunity to see her very often, and this is important to her Their differences could be the cause of a major negative experience.
“But we don’t know how much longer my mother will be around, and I want to be by her,” she replies. “This is our only opportunity to have enough time to do that.”
“All year long we’ve looked forward to this one-week vacation. The boys would be miserable sitting around their grandmother’s house for a week. They’d drive everybody crazy. Besides, your mother’s not that sick. And she has your sister less than a mile away to take care of her.”
“She’s my mother, too. I want to be with her.”
“You could phone her every night. And we’re planning to spend time with her at the Christmas family reunion. Remember?”
“That’s not for five more months. We don’t even know if she’ll still be here by then. Besides, she needs me, and she wants me.”
“She’s being well taken care of. Besides, the boys and I need you, too.”
“My mother is more important than fishing.”
“Your husband and sons are more important than your mother.”
As they disagree, back and forth, they finally may come up with some kind of compromise. They may decide to split up — he takes the boys fishing at the lake while she visits her mother. And they both feel guilty and unhappy. The boys sense it, and it affects their enjoyment of the vacation.
The husband may give in to his wife, but he does it grudgingly. And consciously or unconsciously, he produces evidence to fulfill his prophecy of how miserable the week will be for everyone.
The wife may give in to her husband, but she’s withdrawn and overreactive to any new developments in her mother’s health situation. If her mother were to become seriously ill and die, the husband could never forgive himself, and she couldn’t forgive him either.
Whatever compromise they finally agree on, it could be rehearsed over the years as evidence of insensitivity, neglect, or a bad priority decision on either part. It could be a source of contention for years and could even polarize the family. Many marriages that once were beautiful and soft and spontaneous and loving have deteriorated to the level of hostility through a series of incidents just like this.
The husband and wife see the situation differently. And that difference can polarize them, separate them, create wedges in the relationship. Or it can bring them closer together on a higher level. If they have cultivated the habits of effective interdependence, they approach their differences from an entirely different paradigm. Their communication is at a higher level.
Because they have a high Emotional Bank Account, they have trust and open communication in their marriage. Because they Think Win-Win, they believe in a Third Alternative, a solution that is mutually beneficial and is better than what either of them originally proposed. Because they listen empathically and seek first to understand, they create within themselves and between them a comprehensive picture of the values and the concerns that need to be taken into account in making a decision.
And the combination of those ingredients — the high Emotional Bank Account, thinking win-win, and seeking first to understand — creates the ideal environment for synergy.
Buddhism calls this “the middle way.” Middle in this sense does not mean compromise; it means higher, like the apex of the triangle.
In searching for the “middle” or higher way, this husband and wife realize that their love, their relationship, is part of their synergy
As they communicate, the husband really, deeply feels his wife’s desire, her need to be with her mother. He understands how she wants to relieve her sister, who has had the primary responsibility for their mother’s care. He understands that they really don’t know how long she will be with them and that she certainly is more important than fishing.
And the wife deeply understands her husband’s desire to have the family together and to provide a great experience for the boys. She realizes the investment that has been made in lessons and equipment to prepare for this fishing vacation, and she feels the importance of creating good memories with them.
So they pool those desires. And they’re not on opposite sides of the problem. They’re together on one side, looking at the problem, understanding the needs, and working to create a Third Alternative that will meet them.
“Maybe we could arrange another time within the month for you to visit with your mother,” he suggests. “I could take over the home responsibilities for the weekend and arrange for some help at the first of the week so that you could go. I know it’s important for you to have that time.
“Or maybe we could locate a place to camp and fish that would be close to your mother. The area wouldn’t be as nice, but we could still be outdoors and meet other needs as well. And the boys wouldn’t be climbing the walls. We could even plan some recreational activities with cousins, aunts, and uncles, which would be an added benefit.”
They synergize. They communicate back and forth until they come up with a solution they both feel good about. It’s better than the solutions either of them originally proposed. It’s better than compromise. It’s a synergistic solution that builds P and PC.
Instead of a transaction, it’s a transformation. They get what they both really want and build their relationship in the process.
Seeking the Third Alternative is a major Paradigm Shift from the dichotomous, either/or mentality.
But look at the difference in results.