Synergy, Conflict, and the Fruits of the Spirit

Synergy is prized by organizations, groups and individuals. Synergy is the state that arises when collaboration results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. People reveal more information, create new ideas, and become more unified with each other. In sum, synergy allows people to work together with positive energy and leads to effective outcomes.

Synergy is prized by organizations, because it leads to innovation. It’s prized by groups, because it enhances the capability of members to work together not only in the present but also in the future. It’s prized by individuals, because the experience of synergy contributes to personal growth and well-being.

If we prize synergy so much, why do our efforts (e.g., team building, style inventories, etc.) to achieve it rarely pay off? The answer comes by looking at conflict in groups from a systems perspective. Conflict in organization has multiples levels and operates with system dynamics. To understand groups well enough to know how to act in ways that create synergy, we need to know about conflict’s dynamics.

There is a conundrum when it comes to conflict. The conflict conundrum is that the amount of task/cognitive conflict necessary to reach synergy is frequently outpaced by relationship/affect conflict.*

In order to have an optimal amount of task conflict without the relational conflict that comes with it, positive affect needs to outpace negative affect. Negative affect and its outcomes (i.e., negativity, anger, threats, demeaning treatment) need to be overridden by positive affect and its expressions (i.e. warmth, sincere attempts to understand, downward regulation of anger).

But human nature is to react rather than to detach. To counter our tendencies to react, we need to engage in spiritual practices. Spiritual practices cultivate the types of hearts, minds and spirits we need to generate and maintain the positive affect necessary to counteract the normal downward spirals of negative affect.

We are called to become Christ-like — people with tender hearts, humble minds, and gentle, quiet spirits (see 1 Peter 3.1-12). The fruits of the spirit arise from them. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23, NRSV). These are the qualities we need to counter the difficulties of conflict.

So, in order to resolve the conflict conundrum, to reach synergy, people should engage in spiritual practices. By doing so, they will cultivate the life of the spirit in themselves, becoming more able to engage with others, even in the midst of conflict. In addition, they will be bringing the fruits of the spirit into their work groups and their organizations, making them more effective and the types of places where people want to be.

*Cronin, Matthew A. & Katerina Bezrukova. Conflict Management through the Lens of Systems Dynamics. Academy of Management Annals, 2019, Vol. 13, No. 2.

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