Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has been a source of material for character lessons I do for the local High School football team. While doing prep work for a lesson on Habit 6: Synergy, I came to the realization that a major problem today in society is the lack of synergy.

The definition of synergy is the interaction of two or more ‘agents’ produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. In a nutshell, synergy is achieved when two or more people work together to create a better solution than either could alone.  It’s not your way or my way but a better way, a higher way. Some people think synergy is just another word for compromise. It’s not. Compromise is 1 + 1 = 1 ½; Cooperation is 1 + 1 = 2; Synergy is 1 + 1 = 3.

One reason I think we lack synergy in today’s world is that we have developed an individualistic culture with an emphasis of the individual over the group. We value personal goals over group interests and a focus on personal achievements. There is a need for instant gratification and our ‘always on’ society demands satisfaction now.

There also exists too much ‘scarcity mentality’ and not enough ‘abundance mentality’ – another of Covey’s principles. One might even say we have an “abundance of scarcity mentality and a scarcity of abundance mentality.” In scarcity mentality, if someone else wins then I lose; there is only a finite amount of success. This leads to selfish behavior, working against creating any synergy. The abundance mentality is that the success pie continues to grow and more people can share in the success.

Synergy is everywhere in nature. If you plant two plants close together, the roots commingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. If you put two pieces of wood together, they will hold much more than the total of the weight held by each separately. In weight lifting, a two joint lift produces more power and greater growth of strength.

A good orchestra is individual and diverse instruments coming together to make a sound like no other. Vocal harmony is most moving when it blends and balances the voices of many individuals (think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of my favorites). Chefs mix ingredients like flour, raw eggs or lard – things that by themselves are unappealing; but properly blended, they become mouth-watering dishes.

In business we have many examples of synergy.  Two brother-in-laws candle maker William Procter and soap maker James Gamble merged their business interests in Cincinnati in 1837 to take advantage of like resource needs and production capability; Two movie executives, Steven Spielberg & George Lucas, both successful in their own right combined their talents to make Indiana Jones – the most cost effective ($10 made for every $1 invested) of all the blockbuster franchises. A more common example is a brainstorming meeting where people building off of one another’s thoughts create an outcome that was not possible with independent thinkers.

Sports teams that lack synergy never reach their full potential. If stars are worried about their individual stats as opposed to doing whatever is necessary to win the game, it will cost teams when the competition is evenly matched. I continuously work to identify and mitigate this on our football team and once witnessed an extremely talented basketball team never reach its potential because of this issue. When the best players are concerned with their numbers, it devalues the balance of the team.

The football team I have helped with has the team motto of “One Heartbeat”.  It is more than just a motto; it truly is the essence of the team.  It is chanted in the locker room before every game, it chanted after every team practice, scrimmage and game – win or lose. It is included in our expectations of being a member on our team.  We are one heartbeat.  We are 53 different men from different backgrounds that come together to form a whole.  Each player supports the other. One player is capable of standing on his own to proclaim the value of our football team, however when a second stands he supports the first and the proclamation is stronger.  When all 53 players stand together with one heartbeat we have “synergy of team”.

The Bible also has “One Heartbeat.” It has different books written by a variety of authors with their own syntax, diction, themes, etc. One book not only declares that it is God’s Word and is capable of standing on its own, it also affirms another book which in turn attests to its Divine origin, and these two affirm yet another and so on.  There is an interdependence of the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament is incomplete without the next chapter, the New Testament. The New Testament is not as comprehensible without the Old Testament as a foundation.  If these different books all stood on their own, they would not cumulatively have the effect that the Bible has. When all the books stand together with one heartbeat we have “synergy of scripture.”

Consider the original disciples of Jesus.  Jesus recruited people who would contribute to the other members of the team and to the team’s overall objectives. Jesus taught his team of individuals to understand, appreciate, and love each other. He began with a group of Galileans – working men, mostly fishermen, all with strong Jewish backgrounds. Then he added Matthew, a tax collector and hated publican, and Simon the Zealot, who was at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Matthew. The combination of these individuals exceeded what each could do.

There is much talk about how to build synergy among diverse people. If we go back to the analogy of an orchestra, the orchestra tunes itself before a performance. The oboist plays the concert pitch, then the first violinist plays the note, and the other instruments tune to that pitch. What follows can only be described as a bizarre cacophony at first. Then it calms down and they’re all tuned to one another by tuning to the same instrument. In sports the head coach serves as concert pitch, tuning everyone to the team’s vision.  In business it can be the inspirational vision of a fonder. In life, Jesus is our concert pitch.

Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy — the mental, the emotional, and the psychological differences between people. In synergy, diversity is valued.  Which is different than tolerating diversity where you keep to yourself and want to be of no bother.  If you seek and celebrate diversity then you see the advantage to value differences. You respect the individual and their differences. The world has too much ignorance, prejudice, and racism – viewpoints we are not born with, but are learned from or obtained from our environment. When was the last time both sides of the political spectrum worked together for a better solution that either could have done on their own?

People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. ~ Vince Lombardi

We live in an individualistic culture, but we are called to be people in relationship. We are not called to be the persons of God but the people of God. We know that in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” So when two or three believers come together God is present, which means the results will be far greater than mere humans can produce.

In Romans 8:28, the original language reads in part, “God works together all things for good to the ones called according to his purpose.” The Greek word translated “work together” is synergeo, from which we get our English word, “synergy.”

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