What makes a team work? In a word, "synergy."

Here is a quote that has often struck me as poignantly describing the human condition:

"Sometimes I think we're alone on this planet. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering."

The mind that was so staggered by those polar-opposite thoughts about life on earth and beyond came from the uniquely unrestrained brain of one of the world's most creative thinkers, the architect, futurist and philosopher, R. Buckminster Fuller.

"Bucky," as he was called by friends and critics alike, may have been the first person to really understand why a team works--and to fully grasp the team's amazing possibilities for extraordinary achievement.

We used the term synergy long before Fuller adopted it as one of his favorite terms. (The Oxford English Dictionary has a reference dating from 1660.) The word comes from the Greek sunergia, meaning "cooperation," which in turn derived from sunergos, meaning "working together." But that's not the half of it. What Bucky did was to unconceal the hidden power of synergy--and that is truly a force to be reckoned with. Fuller thought it was bigger than gravity!

Here's how author Amy C. Edmondson introduces the subject, and Bucky's passion for same:


"Synergy" has come into fairly widespread use recently, perhaps due to Bucky's many years of championing its cause, or perhaps just because we finally needed it badly enough. Formerly unknown except to biologists and chemists, this word describes the extraordinarily important property that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts." In Fuller's words, "Synergy means the behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately."

Bucky's favorite illustration was the behavior of alloys: "Synergy alone explains metals increasing their strength." He enthusiastically describes the properties of chrome-nickel steel, whose extraordinary strength at high temperatures enabled the development of the jet engine. Its primary constituents--iron, chromium, and nickel--have tensile strengths of 60,000, 70,000, and 80,000 pounds per square inch respectively, and combine to create an alloy with 350,000 psi tensile strength. Not only does the chain far exceed the strength of its weakest link, but counter-intuitively, it, even outperforms the sum of its components' tensile capabilities.

From A Fuller Explanation (www.angelfire.com/mt/marksomers/


That's synergy...and that is what makes a team work!

In fact, Bucky created a formula to calculate the synergy of a team of people. It goes like this: P (representing the number of people involved) squared, minus P, divided by two, equals the amount of S (the synergy of the group). It looks like this:

P2 - P ÷ 2 = S

Take the number of people on your team--let's say it's 25. Now, square it (25 x 25), to get 625. Substract 25: 600. Divide that by two: 300. Twenty-five people--300 relationships! Like chrome-nickel steel, that's way more than the sum of the people simply added together.

What does that "S" actually represent, in terms of the people on your team? It's the total number of the relationships and partnerships.

Imagine there are four of us sitting around a table: you and I and Bob and Cheryl. (We'll leave Ted and Alice out of this for now.) You and I: that's one relationship. You and Bob: that's another. You and Cheryl makes three; Bob and Cheryl makes four. Then there's Cheryl and I, plus Bob and I: that's six. Only four people--but six relationships.


The Quality of Synergy

As impressive as the quantity is, what matters most in any and every team is the quality of those relationships.

Let's say you and I and Bob and Cheryl don't like each other much. What kind of relationships are we likely to have? And don't forget, the four of us have six of those!

Let's say you and I and Bob and Cheryl love each other. What kind of relationships are we likely to have? And don't forget, the four of us have six of those!

Which of those two teams would you desire to play on? Which of those two teams is most likely to win?

And in the example above, with 25 team members, there were 300 unique relationships.

Remember the "Miracle on Ice"? Back in the 1980 Olympics, a bunch of amateur American hockey players took on the best team in the world, from the Soviet Union. The American college kids didn't stand a chance against the vastly superior Soviet professionals. Yet they won, with a 4-3 victory--and went on to take Olympic Gold. When team captain Mike Eruzione was asked how they did it, he simply said, "We loved each other." Too simple? Not according to Bucky Fuller's equation. There are six people on a hockey team, plus alternates: you do the math. That's a lot of love.

Look at your networking team. What's the quality of the relationships and partnerships there? Truly, that's what there is to work on. Remember, because of synergy, whatever qualities, characteristics, vision, values, moods and attitudes, dreams and desires are present in the relationships between you and your people will be magnified--and magnified exponentially!

Synergy is what makes a team work. But the quality of the synergistic relationships and partnerships people on the team have with each other is what determines losers and winners, the merely good from the championship team.



JOHN MILTON FOGG is author of The Greatest Networker in the World. You can check out what John is up to with coaching at: