When Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, it did so because it saw potential in the union; the acquisition was an opportunity for a greater sharing of resources and more visibility for Amazon with the public. In other words, the acquisition was an opportunity for new synergy to flow.
In business, we seek to harness the power of organization to yield synergy: the cultural fruitfulness where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Often, synergy results from mergers and acquisitions. Like puzzle pieces being fit together, or like a sports team utilizing different players’ skills for different positions, companies’ strengths and resources are combined to create new financial value and benefits. The value of organizational synergy is not exclusive to the business realm, but in fact, has a lot to do with the mystical body of Christ.
The Power of Organization: Tribal Synergy
First, let’s consider how organizations are structured and why some exude more synergy than others. To explain the differing influences of organizations, how some are upbeat and effective while others falter, author Dave Logan has written about the phenomenon of “tribal leadership.” Tribes, according to Logan, consist of 20-150 people who drive the work getting done in an organization. In Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, Logan and his co-authors write, “In companies, tribes decide whether the new leader is going to flourish or get taken out. They determine how much work is going to get done, and of what quality.” Organizations as a whole are the sum of the tribes within it; these tribes are like cells that affect the health and appearance of the organization as a whole.
Tribes are themselves led by tribal leaders who shape the culture of their tribe, making them ambitious, lazy, upbeat, tight-knit, disheveled, or so on. Without an inspired tribe, leaders are impotent.” According to Logan, the mood of tribes can range from despairing hostility at worst to “innocent wonderment” at best. To create synergy and move the tribe from a lower level to a higher level of flourishing, people within the tribes need to use positive, effective words and forge strong relationships. When language changes in a tribe, the tribe can become more synergized.
While Logan’s insights help us better understand what factors into an organization’s power as an influencer, what does this have to do with the mystical body of Christ?
Organizational Synergy in the Church: Many Parts, Common Mission
The mystical body of Christ is an organization, and, like all organizations, it thrives when it is synergized! The Church’s diverse parts are organized for a common, transcendent mission: the sanctification of its members and salvation of the whole world. Together, those called to marriage, to a consecrated lay life, to pastoral life, or to a cloistered life work toward this one mission. Realizing this common goal should result in inclusiveness, a desire for collaboration and forging strong bonds of trust between tribe members.
The Church’s synergy is dependent, to a great extent, on is individual members. The Church as a whole is the sum of the health of the groups within it, and each virtuous act or venial sin committed by an individual adds to or subtracts from the synergy of the whole body of Christ. Individual tribe members shape the tribe; individual Christians affect the health of the Church body.
At the same time, this pursuit of sanctity is expressed in a diversity of ways. Truth is bigger than one human theory, description, process, or policy can express; so, the Church always pursues her one goal with more than one method, not just with faith but also with reason, for example. The genius of the Christian “tribe” is that it always seeks for both/and, not either/or. As one simple manifestation of this, we might look to how the various emphases of the last three popes—John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis— are not contradictory, but rather fill in the truth more wholly.
A More Profound Organization
In fact, because the Church has a more profound identity than business organizations, the Church offers an even deeper opportunity for synergy among Church members. Pope Benedict XVI writes:
We see that the realism of the Church is something quite different, far deeper and truer than that of a State organism. Because Christ really gives His body and makes us His Body. We really become united with the Risen Body of Christ and thereby are united with one another. The Church is not only a corporation like the State is, she is a body. She is not merely an organization but a real organism.
Dave Logan’s point about language’s capacity to transform an organization also relates insightfully to the Church. The Church places a priority on the language of her Liturgy, knowing that how parish tribes are formed depends significantly on the clarity and beauty of the liturgical message. Simultaneously, the mystical body of Christ gives careful thought to the language of evangelization, knowing that whether people are drawn to accept the Church’s Good News depends so much on whether Her words are ones that express the Gospel’s joy or whether they express a gloom that contradicts the very message being proclaimed.
Synergy in the Home
Let’s turn to some practical tips for implementing the idea of synergy, of using our words and relationships to lead our particular tribe in the Church— whether that tribe be our parish, workplace, or family community— to become more alive, more energized.
First Observe, Then Choose Words Carefully
Reflecting on our language choices is one starting point. What language are we using in the culture of our homes and workplace? Is it a language that uplifts and absorbs first, or is it a language that rushes to judge? Beginning conversations and observances by suspending judgment allows us to soak in our surroundings like a sponge, avoiding blind spots. Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy for children beautifully witnesses to this. She says that any teacher must have not only the capacity but also the desire to be in the position of an observer. From thoughtful observation flow more considerate words, and this transforms our family or work tribe into a happier, healthier one.
Stay Connected to the Goal
Still, if you are an archer and want to hit the bull’s eye, you need to know the target. So too, the household or business leader, after observing and absorbing his surroundings, needs to compare the status quo to the ideal, using principles of Catholic social teaching to inform concrete situations. The good tribe member doesn’t simply take in reality; he also knows the goal he is aiming for, and synergy arises from the clarity of this mission. One way we stay connected with the goal of the Church and of the family (sanctification for its members) is by staying closely connected to the Sacraments, through which we receive new life-energy.
Learn the Skills of Others
Another way to cultivate synergy is by taking time to learn the skills of others in our tribe. Taking the time to learn the skills of others is for the sake of empowering them, for trusting them to make decisions, create, and energize. For tribal leaders, this can mean relinquishing some control, nurturing synergy by choosing to trust others to make the decisions they see fit. What skills or talents do each of your co-workers or family members have? What can they be entrusted with?
The mystical body of the Christ is a living organism, and we are called to work for that organism’s health. We are called to live in a spirit of inclusiveness, with a willingness to merge talents and resources in pursuit of the common goal of sanctity. The opposite of this might be described as sin-ergy, which would be characterized by a culture of exclusiveness or reductionism. Let’s be healthy members of the body of Christ, taking our participation in our community seriously and learning to observe and empower those around us, pursuing true organizational synergy.