Sucessful Teams - Part III

by Derek Winter


This is the third post in a series inspired and based on the books “Predictable Success” and “The Synergist” by Les McKeown. The first post summarised the 3 natural styles that describe the way people behave in groups or teams - The Visionary, The Operator and The Processor. The second post explored the dynamics created with these three styles in formal meetings and informal communications, and the consequences of the different ‘world views’ of each.

Les’ second book “The Synergist” introduces the forth ‘style’ or type of behaviour (the Synergist!) which is a learned style that when added to the ‘VOP’ mix can overcome the gridlock and help the other 3 styles be successful together.

The Synergist brings a primary focus on what is best for the enterprise as a whole, and with that context they focus and harmonise a team or group to produce high-quality decisions. In fact, to produce effective decisions at all. As we saw in the last post, left to their own devices, a combination of the other three styles is likely to be ineffective and not capable of decision making.

Any of the other three natural styles can learn to become a synergist, Visionaries do so most readily, followed by Processors. Operators find it hardest. Natural Synergists are rare, but it is possible to find in some people.

A Synergist is best defined and understood by the nine skills that Les identifies  - a set of common characteristics  that they possess – and one commitment that  a they must make. It will be clear from these characteristics that although the title ‘Synergist’ is indicative of the role these people play, and a powerful picture, in reality what we’re looking at here are leadership skills. The value of the way in which Les ties this all together though is in the context of the interplay between the leadership of a Synergist and the natural style of the visionaries, operators and processors.

Firstly, the Enterprise Commitment

    “When working in a team or group environment, [I will] place the interests of the enterprise above my personal interests.”

There is an invitation here. The suggestion that if we are willing to take on this role; to set our sights at an organisational level rather than at a personal, individual level, then we can contribute to “Transforming the group by transcending personal agendas.” This is a learned role, taking on skill sets of the other three styles in the area’s of personal productivity and teamwork to facilitate a repeatable pattern of high quality, team based decision making.

The personal productivity skills are necessary for the equilibrium that a V,O or P requires to switch into S mode. The teamwork skills are used to interrupt the default V, O, P dysfunctional pattern and get the team out of gridlock and compromise. There is nothing new or unique in the skill sets Les identifies. Personal productivity (Time management, Priority Management, Crisis Management, Delegation) and Teamwork (Conflict management, Difficult Conversations, Communication, Inclusiveness, Accountability) skills are well documented and explored across a wide range of literature, so I’m not going to focus on those details here.

What is significant is the application of these capabilities to facilitate a rhythm of Investigation-Interpretation-Implementation which, if properly adhered to will enable the strengths of a team to combine effectively to achieve results consistently. This is not a managerial role necessarily. This is not always an assigned role. In other words, you do not have to be the formal manager of a team, or appointed as the leader of the group to play this part. Leaders and influencers and leaders can come from any level and any area of a team. More importantly it is a willingness to accept the commitment to the organisation first as opposed to an individual agenda, and an understanding of how to influence the other ‘players’ in a manner that maintains harmony and focuses on the outcomes required.

There are very practical discussions about the application of the skills and the nature of the investigation-interpretation-implementation phases of a decision making process. I’d recommend the book just for these discussions if nothing else.

It is possible to get to this point and feel deflated. This is all common sense and there’s nothing new or revolutionary here. To a degree that’s correct, but the significant factor for me is the intentional shifting of perspective and focus onto organisational goals and purposes and a commitment to orchestrate the team players to that end above all else. It’s subtle, but the application of personal capabilities to that end is what sets a Synergist apart and allows them to be the ‘oil’ within a group that can make it effective.