A great management word

We love to talk about synergies, it is a super word, hard and scientific. It gives the impression that we know what we are doing. That we are in control.

Synergy: the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts

What drives synergy?

If synergy is creating more than the sum of the parts, then you can’t create it by making the parts better.  A strategy that focuses on centres of excellence (creating the best department) and performance management (striving for the best people) won’t create synergy.  By definition you still only end up with the sum of the parts, no matter how good the parts are.

Synergy originates from the interactions between the parts. The interaction is the extra bit you get when you put two parts together. Synergy comes from interactions, it can’t be caused by anything else.

How do you create positive interactions?

Now the concept isn’t so hard and scientific, you can’t see or touch interactions. Some people are oblivious to them. The way to create positive interactions is soft and emotional.  It is all — let’s be honest — a little brown sandal.

It is all a bit hippy. It is hard to put your finger on. It is nebulous. Positive interactions are hard to define, hard to measure, hard to quantify and hard to create.

Let’s spin the question on its head

What is the opposite of synergy? I couldn’t find the word for that.  Just a handful of suggestions: antinergy, lessergy, obsgy or unergy.

The best antonym I found for synergy was “synergy”.  Exactly the same word, but whispered behind the backs of the management team with a shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile.

“Synergy”: the creation of a whole that is less than the sum of the parts

Once again “Synergy” can only come from the interaction between the parts, negative interactions.

How do you create negative interactions?

Anybody who has worked in a large organisation knows all about this. It is easy to define:

  • To get negative interactions write conflicting objectives
  • To get negative interactions set people against each other
  • To get negative interactions create jealousy
  • To get negative interactions start blaming people
  • To get negative interactions stop communication

Negative interactions are so much easier to generate. You just need to screw your staff over a little.

Whatever your goal…

Synergy or “synergy” the way to create it is via interactions.

Interactions that are intangible and impossible to see.

What are the interactions like where you work?  Positive or negative?

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work
~ Peter F. Drucker

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Image by Mark Setchell


  1. James, is it just a fancy word for breaking down silos?

  2. Hello James,

    Interesting that the moderns have turned the beautiful human word “harmony” into science speak “synergy”.

    Look deeply and you may find that you function best when you (body-mind) is in harmony with itself and with its host (the environment). Look at your family and you find that when you are in harmony as a family each and all prosper the best. Look at your neighbourhood and you will find the same. Look at the nation and is it not the same. Or the league of nations. Or man’s relationship with his host: nature – the planet Earth.

    Harmony. How does one arrive at harmony? Is it not the smooth fit between the parts so that each part is fulfilled in the context of the fulfilment of the whole? How does one get to harmony? You are a father, you are a husband, you are an employee, you are a manager…. So how do you – James Lawther – arrive at harmonious living?

    There are various ways of arriving at harmony. How does nature do it? A long long long process of trial and error: natural selection – the keeping of that which fits and the dying out / marginalisation of that which does not fit within the greater whole.

    Is it any different in human worlds in which you and I spend most of our conscious lives? I say no. The principal remains the same. The practice is harder. Take me, after 20 years (or so) of marriage to the same person, my wife and I click better than we ever did, we have learnt to accommodate (even celebrate) one another. For harmony to occur the parts must bend to accommodate one another. Yet, in an individualistic culture (USA, UK) this goes against the grain. Like expecting an Englishman to expose his feelings in public! Which is why there is talk of synergy yet synergy is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.

    I hope all is well with you and your loved ones, friend.


  3. Fascinating perspective Maz, I hadn’t thought of it as being quite that deeply humanistic (if there is such a word) but I suspect you are very right.

  4. Hi James,
    Meaningful interactions requires emotional labour. I just worry that there are too few people, managers and leaders that are willing to do the work and put the emotional labour in to create the interactions that matter. Or, may it’s that we’re not creating the structures and the conditions to allow that to happen.


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