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Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
—Henry Ford

Synergy—the combined efforts of two or more people or things where the result is greater than the sum of their individual efforts or capabilities—has become a workplace buzzword.

We’ve all heard lots about the benefits of teamworking. Pool your talents and work together, and you generate more ideas, a greater effort and subsequently better results. Two and two don’t always equal four; in teamwork they can equal six or eight.

But recently I experienced the other side to synergy: that sometimes conflict is necessary for a team to be successful. Working together well doesn’t mean sailing gently on a placid sea, as one might expect if the team were made up of people with similar mentalities, talents, and mindsets. The team that really gets somewhere has varied or even opposing ideas and approaches to problems. The resulting turmoil can propel the team forward.

Of course, there needs to be a balance, and when each member of the team genuinely respects the others, there will be.

When there is mutual appreciation for what each person brings to the team, when everyone keeps an open mind and every idea can be considered, and when it really doesn’t matter who had the winning idea, conditions are ripe for innovation and progress.

On one team I worked with, there were many opposing ideas and needs, which created conflict and uneasiness at first. But because we were more concerned about working together than we were about each having his or her own way, we didn’t let the differences stop us, and eventually we overcame them. The result was positive, even though it wasn’t easy getting there.

I’m one of those people that get discouraged by conflict because I feel something must be terribly wrong, but I also have a mind of my own and don’t like to be told what to think or do. Those opposing feelings have complicated many situations that were already difficult enough. Learning to view conflict as a necessary part of the process has been a breakthrough for me. That perspective takes the fear out of presenting my ideas when others think differently, and it also makes it easier for me to be open to opposing ideas.

Synergy takes work and some sparks may fly, but if we can get through that, the rewards are well worth it. As Kenneth Blanchard said once, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

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