Managers don’t operate in a vacuum. There are realities of organizations, which can prevent synergy from occurring. Management style, communication patterns, boundaries and changes (frequent and fast-paced), personality characteristics (ego), and diversity present a challenge to synergy creation.
Boundaries play a significant role in the formation of synergy, because they affect the quality of interactions. If you hand out a 7 forms of interactions questionnaire to employees, and the response you get shows you that obscure boundaries occur in more than 7 per cent of interactions, then your organization is in real problem.
When feelings of invasion and obscurity are apparent in your organization, it’s time to act – fast. Playing down the findings of the questionnaire could blind you from noticing what’s unfolding before your own eyes. Technically, you would have created a “blind spot”. And before you realize, it’s too late. The 7 forms of interactions questionnaire is an important diagnostic tool for organization sickness.
Here, sickness means that there are deep-rooted issues, which remain unresolved, and which can prevent your organization or team from functioning normally. As a manager, you must figure out an effective way to bring up those issues to the surface. When diversity issues surface, it’s much easier to find lasting solutions to the problems – not quick fixes here and there.
Justifying the Situation Doesn’t Help
The questionnaire can unlock lots of hidden issues in your organization, but it’d be sad to note that, in some instances, managers can downplay the seriousness of the situation. Some managers have the audacity to justify feelings of obscurity and invasion:
Obscurity helps me. We’re a small department, and each technician has to cover numerous functions. I’m comfortable when I ask any technician to do what I need at that moment.
While obscure boundaries may help a manager to ask the employee to do anything they want them to do, the employee can develop feelings of invasion if the job description is rigid, and the task is challenging, burdensome or repetitive. It’s always important to involve the employee in an open and direct dialogue to write up new job roles.
A good job description consists of a mix of flexible and inflexible roles, which you’ve agreed with your employee. And because you understand the inner workings of your organizations much more deeply than anyone else, you can leverage this knowledge together with sound logic to prevent obscurity. This is a positive step toward ensuring that boundaries remain flexible, and synergy occurs.
Flexing (“Recalibrating”) Boundaries
Obscurity isn’t healthy for synergy — neither is it for quality interactive forms and organization in general. The quality of interactive forms can improve if boundaries are flexible. And if your questionnaire indicates that boundary obscurity occurs in more than 7 per cent of interactions, then you must define the boundaries first before you start to make them flexible.
However, flexing boundaries is easier said than done. There are many factors, which hold back people from flexing boundaries. Moreover, people aren’t always willing to open up to diversity issues, perhaps because of their emotional nature. People don’t feel free or comfortable to discuss diversity issues. As a manager, it’s your duty to create a suitable circumstance, which can facilitate a conversation about diversity. While one such method is the “massage exercise”, open offices can contribute effectively to flexible boundaries. What’s common about both methods is that they indirectly force the employee to confront diversity head-on.
The case of Europe Union (EU) demonstrates how flexing boundaries operate. The EU requires its members to open borders. However, circumstances (e.g. terrorism, immigration crisis, etc.) can force members to make boundaries rigid. For example, passport inspection, boundary closure, and so on.
In organizations, flexing boundaries involves engagement, cooperation, fairness and transparency. There’s a relationship between these aspects whose strengths are interdependent.
If you supervise an employee, and they feel that your actions and behaviors toward them create an air of fairness and openness, then their engagement increases. This environment creates a sense of security and confidence, and it can be easy to flex boundaries. This largely depends on how you communicate with your employees, though.
If, on the other hand, an employee perceives your intentions as unfair and unclear, then it can be difficult to engage them. Marginalizing and keeping secrets from your employees increases distance between you. In worst case scenario, the employee may develop a feeling of invasion, which is much more destructive than obscurity.
It’s important to note that people perceive boundaries differently. This could be because of personality characteristics. Therefore, forget about coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. It’s much more helpful to adapt a solution to the subjective perception of a reality by a specific employee. Moreover, employee’s personality isn’t a cause of cultural or structural issues – it could be an effect.
Let’s take a look of a case of a manufacturing plant where rigid boundaries dominated.
A Case of a Manufacturing Plant where Rigid Boundaries Dominated
One manufacturing plant was acquiring another. The acquiring organization already had a department whose head came from outside. While no-one disputed that the manager’s role was clear, the “outsider” enjoyed more privileges than managers of the same rank. Naturally, the other managers decided to marginalize the new manager who couldn’t attend some board meetings.
And because other managers viewed as an outsider, they didn’t trust him enough to share with him the proceedings of the meetings they organized in secrecy, let alone invite him. And so, engagement, transparency, personal friendship and responsibility remained within the closed clique. None of the managers made an attempt to reach to the new manager. This was despite the strategic role the new department played in the organization’s success. Instead, the other managers viewed the outsider as a character who doesn’t fit into the organization’s culture. The others even labeled him as someone who describes “problems”.
The manager was aware of this exclusion, and he complained bitterly about lack of cooperation, failure of the organization to live up to its promise, and sabotage. Yet, despite efforts to create synergy in the organization, the status quo remained. And so, the organization had no choice but to relieve the new manager of his duties. In the end, the organization suffered immensely.
This case highlights how interests – strategy, finance or marketing – breeds secrecy and lack of cooperation between managers and between managers and employees. The net result is marginalization and rigid boundaries. This is ironical given that, for synergy to work, there must be transparency and flexible boundaries. Hence, you must sacrifice benefits for risks, or vice versa. And so, it’s upon you to decide to what extent you must the principles of the synergy approach in your organization.
Time as a Basis of Solution
As they say, “prevention is better than cure”. This saying is truer when you consider what method you need to apply at the beginning to prevent obscurity and invasion from arising in the first place. These destructive forms tend to erode trust and confidence of employees, and can prove disastrous for the organization in the end. If necessary, some actions, which go against the principles of synergy method can be undertaken. However, it’s important to involve employees and boards to institute those measures, because they support is necessary to ensure the interest of the organization.
Just be sure that these actions indicate top-down decision-making before you implement corrective measures. This can involve offering explanations of decisions to employees. You should make the employees see the sense of how the lack of their involvement in the decision-making process resulted in benefits. Moreover, give employees a chance to express their grievances and feelings of invasion or obscurity concerning your decisions.
You can see this situation in an organization, which created a new technology, but, because of lack of finances and cash flow problems, another organization purchased it. The owners of the organization, fearing for the safety of the deal, may have found it prudent to keep this decision as a secret. While the employees and board developed feelings of invasion or obscurity, the purchase saved the organization from sinking financially.
And so, employees got better remuneration and benefits, thanks to the deal. However, the organization’s proprietors had to deal with one thing: the synergy paradox. The thing is, the owners sacrificed quality of interactions for interim benefits. And because the damage was already done, the next course of action was to come up with effective measures to improve interactions.
The moral lesson is: don’t force synergy on organizations. It doesn’t work, and won’t work. That’s it. Sadly, it’s common to find an organization forcing synergy on its employees. What’s even more interesting is that these same organizations find it hard to understand why their forceful measures fail.
The basis of this action: “They get their salaries. They should at least do what they’re told.” This attitude blinds people from understanding that salary isn’t a source of motivation or engagement, neither does it guarantee it. While enforcement and coercion dimensions may be necessary for synergy, employees must appreciate them.
Sometimes, it can be beneficial for organizations to keep some information secret. This means that proprietors or senior managers can decide to make key decisions without the employee’s inputs. However, you must weigh the benefits against the consequences. While feelings of obscurity and invasion may develop as a result, the benefits of your decision-making may outweigh the risks. This is especially so if the organization has no other choice but to save itself from sinking financially. This is the paradox of synergy.
We invite you to read our official book now available on Amazon -
Organizational Synergy - A Practical Guide is a must-read for every manager, entrepreneur, business owner and organizational consultant who wants to profit and succeed in today's business environment.