Team Syntegrity

Stafford become more aware over time of the relevance of managing strategic conversations and of the need to create a learning context to support informed and up to date strategic decision making. One specific challenge for managing complexity is how to facilitate collective agreements on core strategic decisions for organisational viability (and sustainability). He designed Team Syntegrity as a tool to create a very effective collective learning context, for a large group of people needing to make joint decisions around a core strategic challenge or action. In particular, it complements the idea of a cybernetic group learning tool, to support the 3/4/5 homeostat explained in the VSM theory (Beer, 1979).

Fuller’s principle of Tensegrity - tensile  integrity - (Fuller,  1976; 1979), explains that structural integrity results from a particular  mix  of local  compressive stress  where structural members are  joined  together, with  an  overall  tensile  stress  that  characterises  the entire  system. Fuller demonstrated that the best physical structure in terms  of internal tensegrity is the icosahedron and this discovery proved very useful  for designing hyper stable structures, shaped as a geodesic dome. Stafford used this concept as an underlying principle to design a communication structure, able to handle the variety of the participants and  issues,  through structured meetings and debate of a complex issue; he aimed at creating a rich and democratic decision-making context.

Team  Syntegrity is the methodology supporting an  event  called  a Syntegration, normally oriented for collective  and  participatory decision making on crucial  issues  for organisational identity, development or policy  implementation. The event  will  typically last between 2.5 to 4.5 days,  with  between 2 to 4 iterations of discussions.  The TS is based on a model  of non-hierarchical social interactions, so it aims at facilitating participatory and  equitable dialogue among a group of people holding a diversity of views  (Beer, 1994).

A Team Syntegrity event starts by inviting a group of representatives from the stakeholders of a complex situation  to a 2 to 4 days intensive collaborative workshop, aiming to collectively agree on routes for joint action. The first stage of the event is to collectively agree on the opening question and the specific sub questions which should guide the agenda of debates for the following team meetings. Once the 12 topics have been agreed, and the participants are distributed into teams, the process begins. Each team (an infoset)  will have one or two meetings each day, to develop the agenda.

The teams’  organisation and  the distribution of the participants are both based  on the structure of the icosahedrons. Having 12 nodes, this provides the structure for the protocol of developing and  interrelating 12 topics  that  together constitute the issue  at hand. Each of the 30 participants plays three roles: a member in two  groups, a critic  in another two  groups, and  an observer in other  groups. Each group includes a facilitator, five participants, five critics, and observers. The icosahedron provides the pattern of interaction among teams, and participants, that  is shared equally by all.  The infoset is the team of people dealing with a specific topic, - sharing information and knowledge on a particular issue of concern  - to the best of their capabilities; and learning collectively in a very effective way. The closed communication system enabled by the icosahedron structure of meetings and participants allows reverberation to happen, producing logical closure as a consequence of the recurrent interactions of the participants. Stafford suggested that reverberation in a closed  system results in synergy. That is why B. Freesman (Beer, 1994a, p. 14) first coined the term Syntegrity  (‘synergistic tensegrity’) a mixture of synergy and  tensegrity. Stafford called his invention Team Syntegrity (TS) .

Team Syntegrity provides an effective learning context resulting in excellent teamwork by organising the infoset interactions  following cybernetic principles. Extensive use of Team  Syntegrity has demonstrated that  it can be particularly useful  for supporting teamwork related to planning, innovation and  knowledge acquisition processes.